Ben Manhanke || Staff writer
Rand McNally and USA TODAY have named Murray the “Friendliest Small Town in America” in their second annual “Best of the Road” Rally.
Murray was one of 30 small towns selected as finalists in the “Best of the Road” rally this summer, chosen from nearly 700 nominated locations. Each of the 30 finalists were sorted into one of five categories: Most beautiful, most patriotic, most fun, best food and friendliest. Six towns made up each category.
The towns were judged by one of five traveling teams of two, called Rally teams. Rally teams were not only in charge of judging the different towns they saw, but also had to chronicle their journey online in the form of blogs, pictures and videos which they then submitted to the “Best of the Road” website. The Rally team who did the best job covering the locales they visited were awarded a $10,000 prize at the end of their trip.
Rally team hopefuls submitted applications online and from these aspirants the teams of judges were selected. The final decision of which five teams would be traveling across America was made by a panel of experts from Rand McNally and USA TODAY.
Each Rally team traveled approximately 30,000 miles across the country from Washington D.C. to Seattle and visited only the six towns in their respective category.
Jennifer Jordon and Robert Schatz from Broomfield, Colo. also known as the “Rogue Riders” were the judges for the “Friendliest Small Town in America” title and visited Murray for two days in June.
While they were here, the “Rogue Riders” were treated to a tour of Murray by plane, a fishing trip to Kentucky Lake, a visit to Murray State and they also got to experience a variety of Murray’s local cuisine while speaking to residents about what makes Murray so friendly.
In an interview with USA Today, Jordon and Schatz said Murray felt like home more than any place else they visited.
“This is the only town where we went into people’s homes,” they said.
Bonnie Higginson, vice president of Academic Affairs, said everything that stems from the recognition is positive.
“It attracts faculty, not so much the students, but their parents might really consider this recognition as very positive in their selection of a college for their children,” she said.
The other Friendliest Town nominees that the Rogue Riders visited included Cloudcroft, N.M., College Station, Texas; Joplin, Mo., Frisco, Texas and San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Lucas Palmer, sophomore from Paris, Tenn., said at first he didn’t believe Murray had been awarded the title, but after he remembered all the nice people he met at his first year at Murray State it seemed pretty believable to him.
“Murray has a sense of community that you can’t find anywhere else,” Palmer said. “You can’t explain it, it’s just a fact.”
Murray was not the only town from Kentucky to be the recipient of a title from the “Best of the Road” Rally.
Bardstown, Ky., was named “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America,”
Delray Beach, Fla., was named “Most Fun;” Sante Fe, N.M., was named “Best for Food” and Gainesville, Texas was awarded the title “Most Patriotic”.
Next summer, another 30 towns will be chosen to compete for the same titles and a new batch of Rally teams will be selected to judge these towns and compete for the $10,000 prize.
It’s possible that next year Murray will again be competing for a title.