ELY – This community at the end of the road is once again honored as one of the best places in the country to visit. In a recent issue, Smithsonian Magazine compiled a list of the 15 best small …
ELY – This community at the end of the road is once again honored as one of the best places in the country to visit. In a recent issue, Smithsonian Magazine compiled a list of the 15 best small towns to visit in 2021.
“We love it when we are recognized across the country as a favorite place to visit,” said Eva Sebesta, Ely Chamber of Commerce executive director. “Last year, with the pandemic and low visitor numbers, I feel we really pulled it together. It was a tough year. I think the business community here put forth a very positive attitude and effort toward COVID and I think that left a lasting impression, especially for folks that haven’t been up here before.”
Laura Kiniry, a freelance writer specializing in food, drink, and travel, and a regular Smithsonian Magazine contributor, opened the review by extolling the virtues small towns have to offer as people get back to traveling and exploring America in the wake of the pandemic.
“Perhaps more than ever, now is a time to appreciate America’s small towns. As we begin to see the other side of a pandemic that kept so many of us isolated, it is easier to understand the value in those things we’ve missed,” Kiniry said.
“Whether it’s by enjoying an outdoor summer concert with neighbors or by catching up with friends at the local brewpub, a sense of community has been hard to find for many; Zoom and FaceTime made for adequate, virtual stand-ins, but they don’t compare to the real thing. It’s those in-person interactions with familiar faces that make small towns so alluring,” she added.
“That is, along with the independent shops, hidden gem parklands, historic sites and architecture, unique restaurant finds, and, of course, a slower pace of life and relative affordability that numerous city dwellers are finding more and more appealing. Fortunately, many of America’s small towns are emerging from the effects of COVID-19 resilient and ready to welcome visitors,” Kiniry said.
All about Ely
This is what Kiniry wrote about Ely.
“Ely sits on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), over one million acres of interconnected lakes and streams, uncut forest and remote wetlands that just last year became the world’s largest internationally-certified Dark Sky Sanctuary. Tucked within the boundaries of northeast Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, the BWCAW features more than 1,200 miles of canoe- and kayak-only water routes. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian voyageurs used these channels to transport fur. Today, they’re a paddler’s dream.
“Winter is Ely’s longest season. While dogsled adventures are a popular pastime (the town’s moniker is actually “Sled Dog Capital of the World”), cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and even family-friendly kicksledding, a mix of both skiing and dog sledding that involves propelling a chair through snow by kicking, all take center stage over approximately seven months of the year.
“The colorfully painted one- and two-story structures along downtown Ely’s Sheridan Street (its main thoroughfare) exude endless charm, especially when blanketed in snow. Ely’s storefronts are also home to a wealth of locally-made goods, like the warm winter boots and moccasins of Steger Mukluk, Wintergreen Northern Wear’s outdoor apparel (all designed, cut, and sewn onsite), and even Crapola!, Ely’s own uniquely named granola company that’s known for its signature cranberry and apple mix. Piragis Northwoods Company offers all the supplies you’ll need for a fully outfitted paddling trip, while the Brandenburg Gallery is the perfect spot for perusing the works of National Geographic photographer and local native, Jim Brandenburg.
“Moose, black bear, beaver and timber wolf can be seen in the greater Ely region. Pay a visit to the town’s International Wolf Center, a 17,000-square-foot facility where you can watch gray wolves frolic and hunt. Or get a close-up look at the North American Bear Center’s resident black bears Ted, Holly, Lucky and Tasha during daily behind-the-scenes tours.
“Hungry? Don’t miss the massive burgers at Stony Ridge Resort & Cafe (which doubles as an RV and tent campground), or pair a Blueberry Blonde ale with a beef brisket sandwich at Ely’s Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant. Join local residents for coffee roasted onsite and vino by the glass at Northern Ground Coffee + Wine Bar. Evergreen Restaurant is known for its all-day selection of fine casual cuisine, including corned beef hash for breakfast and broiled walleye at dinner.”
Other small towns that made the list include: Council Grove, Kan., Fayetteville, W.Va., Muscle Shoals, Ala., Manitou Springs, Colo., Hatch, N.M., Goshen, N.Y., Nevada City, Calif., Bath, Maine, Brevard, N.C., Dyersville, Iowa, Wallace, Idaho, Charlevoix, Mich., Natchez, Miss., and Litchfield, Conn.