Rockland hot to be coolest U.S. small town

Posted March 31, 2009, at 9:44 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Is Rockland a cooler small town than Owego, N.Y.?

Maine’s governor thinks so. But he’ll need your help to make it official.

Gov. John Baldacci proclaimed April 1 “Make Rockland the Coolest Small Town in America Day.”

The unusual proclamation came about because Friday is the last day to vote in Budget Travel magazine’s online poll to determine this year’s coolest small town, much to the delight of boosters of this midcoast community — which, it must be said, is technically a city.

“I think it’s awesome,” Frank Isganitis, vice chairman of the Rockland Downtown Alliance, said Tuesday evening. “I was so excited when I found out that the governor was even considering doing it.”

Isganitis was so thrilled that he decided to alert the magazine’s online editor with the news, who called him back within the hour.

“She’s just offering her congratulations. I got the general sentiment that they were very surprised that we would have been able to pull something off like this,” he said. “I told her that only in Maine can you pull something like this off. The whole state is a great big small town and we take care of each other. It truly embodies the sentiment of the way life should be.”

As of Tuesday evening, Rockland had 18,500 votes and the Finger Lakes village of Owego had 20,405. Rockland has been holding steady in second place for a “long time,” according to the Web site. Grinnell, Iowa, is pulling a distant third place with just 7,555 votes. There are 22 communities to choose from in the contest, which began in late January. Rockland was nominated for the honor by schooner Capt. Brenda Thomas, who felt that Rockland fit the criteria listed. The coolest small town must be fewer than 10,000 people, be beginning to draw attention and be a place “with an edge.”

“Rockland is deserving of votes from residents and tourists alike because it has an eclectic, unique flavor,” Baldacci said in his proclamation. “It has become a cultural destination; its residents and community members care for each other and give back to the area in which they live.”

The governor also took care to mention such lures as the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Maine Lobster Festival and the North Atlantic Blues Festival. He also pointed out that it is the port of the largest windjammer fleet on the East Coast.

What does Owego have? According to the write-up in Budget Travel, Owego has a Strawberry Festival, a ghost named George and “a tombstone with the longest epitaph in the U.S.”

Is Rockland cooler?

Isganitis said yes, emphatically, and was happy to list the reasons.

“Lobsters, blues, ocean, windjammers, clean air,” he said. “All Owego has is it’s the originating home of IBM.”

To vote, visit the Web site www.budgettravel.com and go to the Web exclusives section of the home page.

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