Sandpoint vs. Coeur d'Alene

Sandpoint won the award for Most Beautiful Small Town in America, but given a choice, many folks show their affection for Coeur d’Alene

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Linda Robinson, on vacation from Rhode Island, walks along the 3,300-foot-long floating boardwalk Friday built around The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

COEUR d'ALENE - Congratulations, neighbor, on being declared The Most Beautiful Small Town in America.

But for the Coeur d'Alene faithful, is that honor bestowed a little to the north by USA Today and Rand McNally kind of like getting sandpoint kicked in your face?

Not really - even though some sense of competition is alive and well.

Between the Lake City and Sandpoint, "Coeur d'Alene has to take it," said resident Robert Hoss.

Granted, he said, they both have expansive, gorgeous lakes and a score of art shops downtown. But only one has a floating boardwalk, he said. And, in his opinion, shadier pines.

"I prefer the trees here in Coeur d'Alene," Hoss said.

Both are beautiful, observed Michelle and Scott Hogsett from Phoenix, who live half the year in Coeur d'Alene. But the Lake City has more to enjoy, Scott said.

"There's a little bit more to do in Coeur d'Alene," he said. "The bar scene is definitely a little more, and being a college town, it's a little bit younger."

Sandpoint being more secluded just has a different feel, Michelle added.

"It appeals more to people who want to go into hiding," she said.

"Really?" Scott said.

"Well, you can go and get away," she amended.

Kate McAlister, president and CEO of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn't see it as a competition.

"I think of us as three sisters, us being Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry," McAlister said. "Coeur d'Alene is the sophisticated sister who was sent to Brown and got her degree and is polished and elegant. Sandpoint is the tomboy in blue jeans and a T-shirt and ponytail, and Bonners Ferry is the kid sister, and we're trying to bring her up."

She's overheard tourists in Sandpoint commenting that there are more beautiful places, she added. She doesn't dispute that.

But what made the difference in this competition, she said, is the people.

The chamber collaborated with businesses in town to host the contest judges, she said, providing them with complimentary services like hotel rooms.

The collective aim was to nail the competition and bring in more tourists with the top prize, which included an hour-long Travel Channel special.

"Our town got together and said, 'Let's do something remarkable. Let's let the whole world know how beautiful we are,'" McAlister said.

Skip Peterson, board chair of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce, said that's a rallying method Coeur d'Alene might have to attempt.

"That's quite a coup, to be able to win something like this, because it brings people to your area," Peterson said. "I'm going to definitely want to ask some questions about that, and see what we can do."

Of course everyone thinks their own city is Number 1, he added.

Peterson believes Coeur d'Alene holds greater appeal in being close to Spokane. He has encountered folks who moved from Sandpoint to Coeur d'Alene, he added, because of its central location and amenities.

Still, Sandpoint took the prize, he acknowledged.

"One thing I have to say is I live in Coeur d'Alene, my heart's in Coeur d'Alene, but congratulations and hats off to Sandpoint," he said.

Alberta residents Parker Cook and Kieran Sudlow offered an objective perspective as they strolled down Lakeside Avenue on Friday.

They had just driven through Sandpoint, they reported, and were now taking in Coeur d'Alene.

"So far, I like this city a little better," Sudlow said thoughtfully. "Sandpoint is a little cleaner, but it felt like a small town."

"It didn't feel as established," Cook agreed.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, was reluctant to take sides.

"North Idaho just has all kinds of jewels," he said. "Sometimes Coeur d'Alene wins, sometimes Sandpoint does, but it's all a compliment to the region."

He travels to Sandpoint occasionally to visit a cousin there, he said, and has gotten the impression that "their pace of life is a little slower than Coeur d'Alene's."

Coeur d'Alene scores some big points, he added, in its proximity to an urban area and skiing.

"We probably have an advantage in golf courses," he said.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, also preferred not to compare. But her town has plenty of advantages to deserve the recognition, she said.

"Sandpoint, like much of Idaho, is blessed with beautiful mountains and a wonderful lake, and friendly people," she said. "I think it's a terrific honor and it's something the folks in Sandpoint worked hard for."

Regardless who gets the title, it's probable that tourists who visit one of these two resort towns will manage the hour drive to the other, many observed on Friday.

And why not let Sandpoint have some glory?

When the town's victory was announced, McAlister said, she delivered the good news in person to every business in town.

"Anybody can do that," she acknowledged of their success. "But don't take away our moment, that we're so proud of what we've done. Will it be old news in a couple days? You bet. But you know what? Just give us a day to relish in how wonderful we are."

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