Three months ago, Richmonders took to Facebook to vote for the city in Outside magazine's "Best Town Ever" competition.
Now, the official results are in.
At a news conference this afternoon on Brown's Island, the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau and Richmond Sports Backers will announce that Richmond has won the title of America's best river town.
"Richmond blew everybody else out of the water when it came to votes and to comments," said Ryan Krogh, research editor in charge of Outside's annual "best towns" feature.
Richmond will grace the cover of the October edition of Outside, its 35th anniversary issue, which hits newsstands Monday.
Richmond, one of 10 finalists, captured 9,315 votes — more than the next five towns combined. Hood River, Ore., came in second place with 2,826 votes. But while the vote total was a large factor in the competition, votes alone did not put Richmond over the top.
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Krogh said it came down to "a combination of votes and people commenting on the town and showing their love for the city." Richmond's more than 850 online comments far outpaced the rest of the pack. Richmonders also posted the most pictures to the Facebook page created for the contest.
Outside, with a print circulation of about 700,000 and a total audience of more than 2 million, has featured outdoors towns and cities annually for more than 15 years. Last year, they decided to hold a "Best Town Ever" contest. Chattanooga, Tenn., was the winner.
This year, Outside revisited the concept in conjunction with nonprofit American Rivers, with a focus on river towns.
In winnowing down the list from more than 100 cities and towns to 10, "we focused on really great quality of life, recreational opportunities, access to outdoors, and this year we added (another) component … is the town doing something good conservation-wise? Are they taking care of the river?" said Amy Kober of American Rivers. "We looked at it from that lens, as well."
Jon Billman wrote the Richmond story for Outside after a four-day visit in July.
"I don't know how to say it any better than I would seriously consider moving" to Richmond, said the freelance writer and professor at Oklahoma State University. "I was that impressed with it. I've never been to a place that had such outdoor access combined with such urban access right in that … epicenter."
Krogh said Outside receives letters frequently from readers who have moved to cities the magazine features. But Jon Lugbill, executive director of Sports Backers, said he thinks this honor could have an even larger impact among current Richmond-area residents.
"If people here are going, 'Wow, we have something here that's really, really special,' then that catches on and people start talking about it," he said.
Lugbill added that this kind of recognition was on the group's radar when they started Dominion Riverrock, the annual outdoor sports-lifestyle festival on Brown's Island, four years ago.
"We certainly knew it gave us a way in to have a discussion with all these outdoor publications," he said. "We just never dreamed it would happen this fast."
Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association, said the award is all the more valuable because of how far Richmond and the James River have come.
"To think back 40 years ago (when the Clean Water Act was enacted), to what the river was like with Kepone, raw sewage going in on a regular basis … to have it transform into something that now supports the outside activity and lifestyle that deserve this title is just tremendous," he said.
You could make the argument, Street added, that this title is one Richmond has held before.
"Going back further, beyond (European settlers), this was the prime spot, this was the original river town, and now it's being recognized as America's best river town ever, right here on the banks of America's founding river," he said. "That's an incredible connection."