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Chincoteague in mix for ‘Coolest’ town designation

(Feb. 12, 2015) Nearly a year after Berlin took home the “Coolest Small Town” honors, another community not that far away is in the running for the coveted designation by Budget Travel magazine.
Chincoteague, Va., which is less than 50 miles away and is home to pony swims, seafood and a seaside culture all its own, made the online magazine’s final 15 list for 2015.  
According to Budget Travel, the “incredibly beautiful island town offers a mid-Atlantic summer getaway complete with perfect beaches with trails for cycling and walking, fresh seafood … and its legendary wild ponies.”
The magazine also touted the town’s holiday parties and home tours, and called it “an ideal locale for watching NASA rocket launches from the nearby Wallops Visitor Center.”
Evelyn Shotwell, executive director of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce, said the town is “cool” for many reasons.
“‘Misty,’ the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, our beautiful beaches on neighboring Assateague Island to the east, Wallops Flight Facility to the west, and the genuine, small town charm of Chincoteague islanders in general make us pretty cool,” Shotwell said.
With the entire town rallying to “push the voting button,” according to Shotwell, the chamber launched an aggressive social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, along with website updates and a regular email blast.
“Local organizations like the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, Chincoteague Cultural Alliance, the Town of Chincoteague, Christmas by the Sea and many others have been encouraging their followers to vote daily,” she said. “We are gaining on Grand Marais, Minn. and I feel we have a very good chance to win.”
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said he was delighted to see another town on the Delmarva Peninsula in the running for the designation.
“Chincoteague, Va. is a unique resort town, and much more laid back and full of cultural tradition than most beach-type resorts,” he said. “I think the annual pony penning must surely be a one-of-a-kind event in this entire nation, and I wish them all the best and hope they do achieve that distinction and that we have an opportunity to work together to bring more guests to the Eastern Shore.”
The annual July pony swim, or Pony Penning, has taken place for 90 years, as the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and its “saltwater cowboys” round up the wild ponies on Assateague and lead them across Assateague Channel to Chincoteague’s carnival grounds.
The swim’s purpose is to manage the size of the pony herd by selling the season’s foals at auction.
Berlin, meanwhile, continues to receive national accolades as well. Most recently, Best Choice Reviews named the town the 17th best small town downtown in America, citing the charming nature of the community, as well as its festivals and events, including the Fiddlers Convention and bathtub races.
“To be 17 out of the top 100 I was, again, surprised and thrilled,” Williams said. “Recently we got recognition from Trip Advisor and the thing that started this, of course, was ‘America’s Coolest Small Town.’
“The thing that is most rewarding is that we haven’t been out seeking these designations – they have found Berlin,” Williams continued. “That speaks volumes for the credibility of the recognition and the just rewards for the decades of work it took to get to this level. I think the town of Berlin is continuing to move forward at a faster rate than we’re used to, but the direction has been steadily improving in the right way for a long time.”