The Smithsonian Magazine ranked Lanesboro as 10th in a list of the top 20 best small towns to visit throughout the United States.  COURTESY OF DEE SLINDE
The Smithsonian Magazine ranked Lanesboro as 10th in a list of the top 20 best small towns to visit throughout the United States. COURTESY OF DEE SLINDE
In its most recent issue for the month of April, the Smithsonian Magazine released a publication of the top 20 small towns to visit in the United States. Many of these towns belong to the east coast and states such as Florida, Virginia and Vermont. Others were from Arizona and Idaho.

Perhaps the biggest surprise upon closer scrutiny was the inclusion of Lanesboro, listed as number 10. Amidst the description of struggles the city faced prior to 1989, the Smithsonian Magazine credits initial success of Lanesboro to the founder of the Commonweal Theatre and the Tourism Office, Eric Bunge. Because of the chance to see live theater in a small town, visitors began journeying to the town and staying at bed and breakfasts there.

The Smithsonian focused on the Commonweal Theater as a main force in making Lanesboro such a grand place to visit. "[I]t's the Commonweal, considered one of the sharpest, most innovative small regional theaters in the country, that has garnered attention, putting it on a trajectory not unlike the Guthrie in Minneapolis," the article stated.

By the urging of Hal Cropp, executive director at the Commonweal, the theater is not the only contributor mentioned as a part of Lanesboro's success story, but the Smithsonian Magazine also listed The Root River Bike System, as well as the Lanesboro Arts Center.

Assistant director of the Lanesboro Arts Center Courtney Bergey emphasized what an honor it is for Lanesboro to be listed along with some well-known small towns. "We are excited for the community to be recognized and that those who began this work 30 years ago are able to see its fruition. We are really proud of the people who began to work on our community to make Lanesboro a more vibrant place."

Dee Slinde, the new executive director of the Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce also recognized the honor and what it has already done for Lanesboro.

"We are so pleased that we have been given so much national recognition with the America's Top 12 Small Town Art Places last year and now the new level of recognition given by the Smithsonian," she stated.

Prior to receiving the hard copy of the magazine when it came out, the list was posted on-line. Slinde received phone calls from area residents who had seen the article asking if she had known about the listing.

"We had no idea this was coming," she admitted. "It was a complete surprise and exciting. Already this week we have had phone calls from all over the country, asking about Lanesboro."

Nearby Decorah, Iowa, was also mentioned in the prestigious list, coming in at 19. Attractions and scenic locations included in the article were Dunning Springs, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Seed Savers.

"Decorah sits in the heart of Iowa's bluff country, an area heralded for scenic beauty and wildlife," the magazine stated. "Dunning Springs, just minutes from downtown Decorah, is a 200-foot waterfall - visitors can explore the area by bike or via a network of hiking trails."

For a "dash of history," the magazine recommends a visit to the museum and another stop at Seed Savers for a unique look at over 6,200 varieties of tomatoes.

With two locations just a short distance from the Minnesota-Iowa border, the Smithsonian's mention of these impressive small towns may bring many to the area to discover the treasures to be found in beautiful bluff country.