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USA Today has announced its Readers’ Choice Best Small Towns winners for 2021. Our Towns is popping its buttons that two of our favorite small towns have won honors.

Celebrating Bucksport (photo by Deborah Fallows)

Bucksport, Maine, on the vast Penobscot River in coastal Maine, is the Winner of the Best Coastal Small Towns award. We fell for Bucksport and its plucky, think-big attitude in its ongoing efforts to revitalize and renew itself. The close of the town’s paper mill in 2014, ninety years after its founding, was a blow to Bucksport, which suddenly lost nearly 600 jobs and 40% of its taxes. Sue Lessard, the town manager, described to us the town’s reaction: “There were two ways to go. Should we make ourselves small to accommodate this loss of this major industry and all this taxation value to the community? Or should we do something else? And Bucksport decided to do something else.”

Bucksport dug in with determination and heart. The town followed the citizen-led process from Community Heart & Soul, an organization that guides town development. They agreed on 82, count ‘em 82,  action items to take on to improve life for its residents. The pandemic slowed Bucksport down a little, like it did everyone else. They used the time to make improvements where they could, like renovating the interior of the historic library.

Sue Lessard writes a generous reaction to the news of the award: “We feel like the ‘little engine that could’! It is a testament to our sense of community and connection that we could mobilize sufficient votes to prevail against so many other wonderful communities…but once Bucksport puts its Heart & Soul behind something…we can be a force to reckon with! We truly appreciate this recognition!”

USA Today has also announced its Readers’ Choice Best Historic Small Towns award. Our Towns heartily congratulates De Smet, South Dakota, which captured the #2 honor.

The Kingsbury County Court House in De Smet (photo by Deborah Fallows)

De Smet, is making the most of history with favorite daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder. De Smet welcomes tourists, and it also recently welcomes transplants from around the country, who realized during the pandemic that De Smet could be a very good destination for a big change in lifestyle.

De Smet won us over with its volunteer-led effort that refused to let local journalism die.  When the century-old De Smet News and the Lake Preston Times suddenly announced their final editions in April, 2020, a group of citizens banded together to publish the newly-branded Kingsbury Journal. The first edition came out in May, 2020. A masterful, successful effort is still running strong.

We heartily congratulate both Bucksport and De Smet for their vision, their grit, their accomplishments, and their new honors. Hear, hear!