Two Northland communities are in the running in Outside magazine's annual "Best Towns" online competition - a contest won by Duluth two years ago.
This year, Grand Marais and Bayfield are among the 64 communities vying for the title. Voting in the first round opened Monday and closes at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Click here to vote.
Both towns are among the 16 communities in the "beach" quarter of the bracket, with the other towns split among the river, mountain and culture quarters.
Grand Marais wasn't among the initial 60 towns that made the cut this year - it reached the field of 64 thanks to votes on Instagram during a "wild-card" round, with its entry noting the town's proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, trails for mountain biking and cross-country skiing, and Lake Superior sunsets.
It’s matched against Bolinas, Calif. - a surf town near San Francisco - in the first round. As of 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Grand Marais was leading with 4,727 votes to 3,649 for Bolinas.
Bayfield’s entry mentions its setting amid the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, “the best sea-kayaking destination in the Great Lakes.” Its first-round opponent is Fairhope, Ala., an arts and fishing community on Mobile Bay. As of 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Bayfield was leading with 4,471 votes to 2,836 for Fairhope.
The contest consists of several rounds of head-to-head competition lasting five days each, with the initial field of 64 communities narrowing down until just two towns remain. The final round of voting will last from May 20-27. The winner will be featured in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
Other towns in this year's competition include Marquette, Mich., and Milwaukee. No other Minnesota towns made the field.
Chattanooga, Tenn., was the winner of last year's "Best Towns" contest, edging out Port Angeles, Wash.; Ely had been in the running but was eliminated in the second round.
Duluth surged to victory in the 2014 contest, beating Provo, Utah, in the final round thanks to a savvy "Vote Duluth" social media campaign that promoted the city's hiking, skiing, biking, kayaking and other outdoor assets. But it - and other winners and runners-up from recent years - were excluded from the competition last year and again in 2016. The magazine said last year that it wanted "to make room for hidden gems, underdogs and towns on the rise."