Duluth makes final two in Outside Magazine’s Best Towns contest

Duluth is facing off against Provo, Utah this week in what Mayor Don Ness says is a bid to be named America’s premier “outdoor adventure city.”

Duluth Mayor Don Ness, standing in front of Chester Creek on June 10, talks about the city’s bid to be named America’s Best Place to Live by Outside Magaazine.

The competition began five weeks ago with a bracket of 64 towns, which have competed against one another, head to head, with the city that garners the most on-line votes advancing each week. So far Duluth has bested Columbia, Missouri; Athens, Ohio; La Crosse; Minneapolis; and Asheville, NC.

The competition is more popularity contest than scientific survey, and Duluth’s effort has been bolstered by an aggressive social media campaign and Vote Duluth website.

Ness said it’s been exciting to see the level of enthusiasm Duluthians have expressed in promoting their hometown’s recreation opportunities. But more than just creating a sense of community pride, he thinks winning the contest could pay real dividends in terms of attracting businesses, entrepreneurs and other professionals to Duluth. Recognition from Outside Magazine would be a “tremendous calling card,” he said, and would place Duluth in a broader national conversation for jobs and development with other outdoor-minded towns like Burlington, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado.

Duluth has aggressively invested in trails in recent years, building 40 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail within city limits, committing $100,000 annually to building a 100-mile single-track mountain bike trail called the Duluth Traverse, and expanding the Lakewalk along Lake Superior and connecting it with the Munger Trail, which runs south to Brainerd.

Ness said that investment is starting to pay dividends, not only in improving the quality of life for residents and helping to attract tourists, but in luring young professionals. “When you have an engineering degree, you can really live anywhere in the country and find a good paying job,” he said. “So the question is, why are they choosing Duluth? For those that are making that choice,
they are pointing to our trail systems, to the natural beauty of this area, to the great mountain biking,” and other amenities.

Ness’ vision is to grow Duluth’s population to 90,000 people by 2020, an effort he’s dubbed 90 x 20. But the city’s been stuck around 86,000 people for more than a decade. Maybe winning a national magazine competition will help. “It will provide significant bragging rights,” Ness said, but will also “be an important point we’ll bring up in our business development and recruitment efforts.”