Sandpoint eyed as best small town

SANDPOINT — Once again, Rand McNally has its eyes on Sandpoint as a candidate for the most beautiful small town in America.

Voting is under way for the 2013 Best of the Road contest, which encourages small town residents to vote for their communities in several categories, which this year include most beautiful, most patriotic, most fun, friendliest and best food. This year, the contest also evaluates the best small town to participate in geocaching — an outdoor treasure hunt where participants hide and seek special containers using a GPS receiver or mobile device.

Sandpoint broke ground in 2011 when it was named most beautiful small town in America at the end of the first Best of the Road contest. According to Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president Kate McAlister, the win was one of the biggest coups in recent years for marketing the town.

“Truly, we’re still reaping the benefits from winning that year — and in some ways, it was even better because we were the first,” she said.

 The benefits from the contest victory came primarily from a surge of national media that followed, McAlister said. Sandpoint received substantial coverage in USA Today, one of the contest sponsors that year. Afterward,  Sandpoint landed mentions in magazines, websites and more.

“It really put us on the forefront of a lot of vacation planning,” McAlister said, later adding, “We still get quite a few foreign travelers who, when asked, mention the Best of the Road contest as one of their reasons for visiting,” she said.

There have been some changes to the contest this year. Unlike previous iterations, Rand McNally won’t be sending out teams of visitors to spend time with the locals and take in the sights of the top towns. This time, voters will have until Sept. 3 to throw in their support, at which point, contest officials will tabulate the numbers and pass the top 10 towns in each category on to a panel of travel writers and marketing professionals. Those judges will then pick the top towns in each category based on the number of votes received, the overall suitability of the town and local organizations’ participation in the contest through social media. Finally, local residents and promotional teams must submit a video or photo tour of the town plus written essays describing its merits.

Residents have several options for promoting Sandpoint through the contest. The most direct method is simply to vote by visiting and typing “Sandpoint” into the search bar. Individuals can vote once every 24 hours, so multiple visits are encouraged.

Winners for each category will be announced Oct. 7.

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