Jim Thorpe - one of five 'most beautiful'
TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Jim Thorpe's Broadway in the springtime.
Except for a four year military stint, Charles Wildoner has lived all his life in what is now Jim Thorpe and has always had an unyielding passion for his community. It's that dutiful pride that caused a slight negativity in the national ranking Jim Thorpe received as one of the "most beautiful" in the United States.
He thinks it deserves better.
"I think it is the most beautiful town and I'm disappointed we didn't win it," he explained.
Most will concur, though, that the "Switzerland of America" placing in the top five has bestowed it with a special designation among the 18,432 other towns the 2000 census says exists in the U.S.A., asserting it as very special.
Even Wildoner's wife, Joan, disagreed with Charlie's observation, exclaiming that finishing in the top five "is fabulous!"
Charles then conceded that the present ranking is very impressive. A former Carbon County Commissioner, he spontaneously tallied a long list of reasons why the community has ganed special recognition.
The ranking of "The Best Small Towns in America" was done by USA Today and Rand McNally, a joint project that rated the towns in the following categories: Most beautiful, most patriotic, biggest surprise, friendliest, and most fun.
No other Pennsylvania towns were included in any of the categories as winners or runners-up.
Named "Most Beautiful Town in America" was Bardstown, Ky.
Behind it are:
* Baker City, Ore.
* Danville, Ky.
* Jim Thorpe, Pa.
* Sedona, Ariz.
A one-hour TV show, "Best of the Road," will air on The Travel Channel on Wednesday, July 25, at 8 p.m. regarding the "Best Small Towns in America." The Travel Channel is available to Blue Ridge Communications subscribers: Channel 66 on the dial and channel 670 for high definition subscribers.
The judges said of Bardstown in a quote printed in USA Today, "Bourbon is Bardstown's history and tradition and the countryside is beautiful, but we probably got fewer scenic shots in Bardstown that anywhere else. The people turned us around. We realized maybe we're not just here to see the mountains and rivers, maybe there's something else. Our hearts are still in this place."
Bart Springer, president of the Jim Thorpe Council of the Chamber of Commerce, remarked, "Jim Thorpe being in the beauty pageant is a great honor."
He said the Carbon County seat has so many things that stand out.
"Our outdoor activities are superb; hiking trails, paintball, Segways," he said. "Naturally there's the historical aspect of the town; Asa Packer Mansion, St. Mark's Church, the Old Jail. We have a platform for places too for the entertainment experience. We have unique shops. We have a great dining situation where we have a number of small, intimate restaurants."
It was the Chamber, with a committee headed by Pat Handwerk of the Harry Packer Mansion, who reportedly nominated Jim Thorpe for the "most beautiful" designation.
Springer, like Wildoner, is a lifelong resident of the town.
"I was born in Mauch Chunk and raised in Jim Thorpe," he laughed.
He also agreed with Wildoner that his town should have won the competition, adding, "It's definitely one of the most unique and picturesque towns in America."
This isn't the first time Jim Thorpe has received widespread recognition. The town has been featured over the years in positive feature articles in many prestigious publications including Forbes Magazine, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
In 2009, Budget Magazine ranked it seventh in a Top 10 listing of "America's Coolest Small Towns in America." Ranked number one was Oswego, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, while number two was Rockland, Maine.
Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko feels that the reason given for Bardstown winning the friendly people is also reason Jim Thorpe should have won.
He agreed, "I think it's great that we were named to the top five in the United States. I think it's awesome."
Sofranko, who has lived in Jim Thorpe all his life, said of the judges, "While they came here to see the scenic beauty the mountains and streams the real beauty actually lies in its residents."
Obviously the town has a lot of beauty, said the mayor, a former borough council member. He said whether looking over the town from the Flagstaff or Mount Pisgah, or enjoying the scenery at Mauch Chunk Creek or the Lehigh Gorge, there is so much allure.
He also pointed out that property owners in Jim Thorpe take great pride in their residences.
"I think it's intriguing," he commented.
He praised the local nominating committee, especially the Council of the Chamber of Commerce, for nominating the community for the honor.
Dan Hugos, who heads the production company JTAMS, which hosts concerts and events in the Mauch Chunk Opera House, and who owns Dakota Ridge Gallery, has traveled extensively and feels his hometown deserves the honors.
Hugos, an artist who graduated from the University of Colorado and has shown his photography throughout the world, returned to Jim Thorpe in 2002.
"It was a great experience to compete for the honor of Most Beautiful Small Town in America along with several other very worthy communities," he said. "That we were even able to mount such a significant attempt with so little advance time was a testament to the efforts of several people on the Jim Thorpe Chamber, particularly Pat Handwerk. Everyone came together as volunteers, in the middle of very busy schedules, and did their parts very well."
He added, "we also came to appreciate once again that we live in a terrific community that stacks up very well against any other town. We have a beautiful landscape, very nice restaurants, a beautiful river and gorge, entertainment, shopping, historic places you name it."
The judging was done by the USA Today Rand McNally project by sending teams of judges to the towns that were named finalists in the competition.
Charles Wildoner said there are so many things which make the town very beautiful, including the extensive renovations done on Broadway, West Broadway, and Race Street. He said the restaurants and train rides attract many people.
At night, the lighted trees on Broadway are beautiful. The planting of the trees was a priority project of Ben Walbert, who heads the Shade Tree Committee.
"I congratulate the people of the committee for achieving this," admitted Wildoner. "I'm happy to hear this. I congratulate the people that they pull together."
He added, "Maybe next time we will win."
The list of five "Best Small Towns in America" and runners-up are:
* Most Beautiful - Bardstown, Ky. RUs - Baker City, Ore.; Danville, Ky.; Jim Thorpe, Pa.; and Sedona, Ariz.
* Most Patriotic - Gainesville, Texas RUs - Deland, Fla.; Duluth, Ga.; Enterprise, Ala.; Mandan, N.D.; and Watertown, N.Y.
* Best for Food - Santa Fe, N.M.; RUs - Bloomington, Ind.; Burnsville, Minn.; Charlottesville, Va.; Lewistown, N.Y., and Walla Walla, Wash.
* Friendliest - Murray, Ky. RUs - Cludcroft, N. M.; College Station, Texas; Frisco, Texas; Joplin, Mo.; and San Luis Obispo, Calif.
* Most Fun - Delray Beach, Fla. RUs - Buena Park, Calif.; Corning, N.Y.; Denton, Texas; Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, and Santa Claus, Ind.