For those of us who reside in and around the charming Northeast Iowa college town of Decorah, it was not terribly surprising to discover this week, that Decorah had made Forbes' list of America's prettiest towns. But digging a little deeper into the title, I was slightly stunned to read about the in-depth process that determines what picturesque places actually make the cut. Sure, most of us want to keep Decorah something of a secret. (Shh.) It's such a special place. But go ahead and gloat just a little, Northeast Iowa. After all, the Forbes selection committee has historically called on outfits like the Travel Channel, National Geographic, and Fodor’s to help them choose the finalists. In a way, it's nothing to sneeze at. Tourism in and around the gorgeous Driftless area does help to keep our iconically beautiful community afloat.
2013 is seemingly a big year for this little town. It's not just the year that the Forbes piece hit either. Remember last winter, when we found out that Decorah is actually the site of an ancient meteor crash? This place truly does seem to have a whole lotta' magic going on. On Forbes lists of the past are famous places like New Port, Rhode Island, a place frequented by both the Kennedys and Eisenhower. Think Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and San Luis Obispo, California. When you put it that way, this really starts to feel like an honor, however reluctant we might be to have the cat out of the bag.
Nestled in next to Decorah on this year's list are charming and gorgeous places like Camden, Maine and Breckenridge, Colorado. How's that for beautiful company? But the Forbes list represents so much more than just bragging rights or small town pride. It represents a larger conversation that's always seeemingly buzzing just beneath our midwestern bravado. It represents a struggle for soul as our community grows and evolves into it's inevitable newness. How do we attract great (and hopefully plenty of young) people to settle here and create awesome, while hanging onto our small town values? Where do we draw the line at growth? And what should it look like?
How do we maintain tradition in the face of new technological and social memes? To live in a place with so much to cherish, actually represents a great responsibility. We all seem to realize (to varying degrees), that it's our job to steward and maintain this place, while growing it toward the light. Quite frankly, the task can seem daunting and more than slightly intimidating. But these are pretty wonderful problems to have, no? And after all, Driftless community, depending on how you look at it, the Forbes feature prominently highlighting mainly just the (wonderful) Vesterheim Museum and few of or other incredible treasures, means quite a few of our secrets are still pretty safe. Right?