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Damascus in running for America's “Coolest Small Town” contest

Neighboring Damascus, Virginia is one of 10 finalists in “America’s Coolest Small Towns” competition. After a record 79,187 online votes, this small mountain town with a population of 1,066 is currently in fourth place but working to regain the top position. Budget Travel contacted Richard Smith, Damascus’ web master, about two months ago to inform the town they are in the running for the title.
Looking beyond the contest title, Damascus Mayor Jack McCrady sees being in the top 10 as a unique opportunity to showplace their town nationwide. Well known as a bicycling and hiking paradise, McCrady wants people to know that Damascus offers much more than trails.
“We want Damascus to be a destination, not just a place to ride a bicycle and leave,” he said. “We want to make Damascus a place to come even if they don't have a bicycle.”
McCrady is excited about the increased attention to the entire area, not just Damascus. He believes that this level of publicity will increase the number of visits to the area and that’s good for everyone.
“It's an area event,” he said. “It's good for all of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee.”
Nestled among the picturesque hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains, Damascus sits in the far southwestern corner of Virginia, right next door to Johnson County, Tennessee. A slice of Americana, the town tempts its visitors with old-fashioned ice cream shops, a babbling creek that beckons fishermen and four distinct seasons. For those who long for a back-to-nature respite, visitors and residents alike find a multitude of activities, including biking, bird watching, fishing, hiking, hunting, kayaking, horseback riding and camping. The town boasts plenty of bed and breakfast inns, cottages and cabins to rent as well as an RV park.
Home to the Virginia Creeper Trail, avid bicyclists find themselves making the 34-mile trek beginning in Abingdon, cruising into Damascus and for some, continuing the trip to the top of Whitetop Mountain at a daunting 3,500 foot elevation. Bicyclists have the option of bringing their own ride, or renting from the multiple rental locations throughout the town. These locales offer shuttle services to carry the riders and their bicycles to the top of Whitetop where they unload and complete the scenic cruise back to town. It is not an uncommon sight to see families, young and old, making their way down the last stretch as they meander back to their starting point.
Damascus celebrates Trail Days the weekend after Mother's Day each year, drawing huge crowds complete with local shops and vendors who market to hikers, along with plenty of music and food. The town refers to itself as Trail Town, USA, as The Appalachian Trail, fondly nicknamed “AT” by those who traverse its many paths and wooded areas, passes right through Damascus. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the trail passes through 14 states and sees between two to three millions visitors each year. Along with the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails, the town is surrounded by five additional trails.
In order to be considered for America's Coolest Small Town contest, the town's population must be under 10,000 and offer their own special and unique personality.
Currently in first position is Beautfort, NC with a population of 4,309. With its ocean views and antebellum homes, the town is alive with history including artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge,” which ran aground there some 300 years ago.
Cape May, NJ, population 3,699, holds second place at press time with its Victorian architecture and historic sites. Nearly 400 years after its founding, Cape May is still a popular place for sun, surf and relaxation.
Cooke City, MT with a population of only 142, has switched places with Damascus several times since rising to the top ten. Bordering Yellowstone National Park, right now it boasts third in the competition. Unfettered access to the waterfalls, geysers, and mountains in the country’s first national park makes Cooke City a desirable location for visitors all year round.
With 647 towns nominated originally, Smith said he has no idea how Damascus was entered in the contest in the first place. Now that they know however, they are doing everything possible to generate votes and earn bragging rights as the coolest small town in the country.
Voters can cast their ballots one time per 24-hour period at Budget Travel,11/. Asking for everyone's vote, McCrady would specifically like to tap into the energy of high school students and asked that they get online and vote.
While the contest will end on January 31st, the winner will not be announced until the September/October issue of Budget Travel.