So far, Danville’s competition has apparently proved game. Dusty said Jim Thorpe was a “post card kind of town” set against a backdrop of rivers and mountains and offering a bevy of outdoor activities. Following their visit to Danville, the Greens will head to Bardstown, before going on to Tybee Island, Ga., Sedona, Ariz., and Baker City, Ore. The cross country zig-zag may look daunting, but the Austin, Texas-based couple are experienced travelers.
After living and working in Amarillo, Texas, Dusty said they grew fed up with workaday life, deciding to sell many of their belongings and take an extended journey through Central and South America. Starting out in Costa Rica, they spent seven months learning the language and culture of the people who hosted them, often without anyone who spoke English.
Dusty and Nikki have continued to pursue their passion for adventure and experiencing new places. They saw an advertisement for submissions for the current installment of Best of the Road after the first-ever competition last year. Based on a brief video the couple made, the judges agreed the contest was a good fit for the Greens with their knack for travel and meeting new people.
While the Greens have seen some of the most famous locations and bustling cities in the world, Dusty said both he and Nikki are natives of small towns and are enthusiastic about seeing places with unique character. He said the “most beautiful” category — others include most patriotic, most fun, best food and friendliest — was the only one from which they had not visited at least one of the finalist towns.
“One of the reasons we were so excited to get this category is the criteria for a small town is, I believe, less than 150,000,” Dusty said. “Every one of the towns on our list are small towns in the genuine sense.”
Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been coordinating the effort to schedule as many quintessential local stops along the way as possible while the Greens are in town. She said Danville’s reputation as the “City of Firsts” will be a theme carried throughout the visit.
In addition to the Greens, Kirchner said there will be production crews from CBS News and the Travel Channel, which is bringing along an RV and seven people. The cameras likely will start to capture the couple’s activities in downtown Danville on Wednesday morning, but a host and camera crew also may be shooting footage for an additional Travel Channel show at various destinations in town.
“They’ve been very clear that we need to be flexible,” Kirchner said, noting some stops could have to be changed or eliminated based on how long filming takes.
After the couple get to Danville, they will hit the reception at Traveler’s Rest before being feted with a garden party at McDowell House featuring local desserts and brass band music. Wednesday’s itinerary includes guided tours of some area landmarks (Constitution Square, McDowell House, Community Arts Center, Great American Dollhouse Museum, Centre College and Perryville Battlefield), meals and drinks at local restaurants, a play at Pioneer Playhouse and a sampling of the town’s nightlife.
On Thursday, the Greens will be set loose to go exploring on their own. Dusty said the team is trying to see as much of what sets the towns apart as possible, but he hopes people understand their time is limited. Once the teams reach the end of their road in Seattle, Wash., next month, they will make hour-long presentations to a panel of judges, which can include recommendations about what they enjoyed during their visits to each town. They are competing for $10,000 for the team that does the best job chronicling their trip.
Dusty said it is to their advantage to do the best job representing each town to the judges, but he and Nikki also understand the stake the towns have in their success.
“We know this can bring the kind of exposure a town like this needs, and we can open the eyes of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to what Danville is all about,” Dusty said. “It is not lost on us what that means.”
The winning town will be featured on the Rand McNally Road Atlas, as well as its GPS programs and brochures, and bestoftheroad.com and USA Today’s Travel website.
The judges will announce a winner July 16 during the Destination Marketing Association International annual convention.