Duluth wins Outside Magazine’s Best Town contest

In what’s seemed like a foregone conclusion for weeks as Duluth’s social media driven campaign continued to pile up online votes, the Lake Superior city officially defeated Provo, Utah, Sunday night in a bracket-style competition to be named Outside Magazine’s Best Place to Live.

Winter surfing on Lake Superior was one of many outdoor pursuits Duluth boosters highlighted in their campaign to help the city win Outside Magazine’s 2014 Best Towns contest. Dan Kraker / MPR News

Duluth defeated Columbia, Missouri; Athens, Ohio; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Asheville, North Carolina, and finally Provo, routinely racking up more votes than any other city along the way.

The effort was boosted by a #VoteDuluth social media campaign and website backed by Destination Duluth.

“[T]here is nothing earth-shattering about winning an online voting contest,” as Duluth Mayor Don Ness conceded in a Facebook post Sunday. But it’s still a big deal, Ness said, for a city still recovering from the high unemployment and severe fiscal issues of 10 to 20 years ago – and what Ness called “a fog of pessimism and defeatism that hung over the city.”

Matt Evingson and Justin Martin ride a section of the Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail. Photo courtesy Adam Sundberg

After all, this is the place where someone in the 1980s infamously posted a billboard on I35 outside of town proclaiming “The last one out, please turn out the lights.”

“Ask yourself this question. Do you think Duluth could have won this contest 20 years ago?” Ness wrote.

Unlikely, since 20 years ago there was no Canal Park, no Lakewalk, no plans to build a 100 mile singletrack mountain bike trail through the city. So, while the contest itself isn’t too important, “the recognition of the change in our city in recent years is important and it is significant,” Ness concluded.