FAYETTEVILLE — No matter how you slice it, regardless of how many thesauruses you consult, there’s no other word for it. It’s just plain “cool.”

That’s according to Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine, which ranked Fayetteville the fifth “coolest small town” in all of America in its April 2006 issue. Budget Travel is a publication of Newsweek magazine.

Town Superintendent Bill Lanham was elated when he received the news — all the way from Florida, of all places.

“My aunt called my grandmother from Sarasota. She (his aunt) was in the doctor’s office and was reading through this magazine when she noticed Fayetteville in there. When I got the news, I sent my wife out to Kroger to get a copy,” he said.

Lanham, who currently resides in Dunbar, has worked in Fayetteville for nearly seven months now, and he said he can’t wait to make it his home after the current school year ends.

“I can’t wait to get my family here,” he exulted.

“I’m really excited. With the atmosphere and the congeniality of people here, it’s no wonder. We have natural beauty and friendly people here. This just enhances our community. I know what the rest of the nation is just finding out — we’re one of West Virginia’s best-kept secrets.”

Mayor Jim Akers believes the article provides the town he governs with long-overdue recognition. While the town has made inroads with local media — particularly a recent spread in West Virginia South magazine — it is a relative unknown to the national media and tourism industries.

“I knew we had a little treasure here,” Akers asserted.

“Everyone loves it here. I think it’s great, and the ranking is just a preview of things to come. It’s getting better and better. We’re not through yet. We’re a long way from being where we want to be, but we’re making progress. I think we’ll eventually be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the East.”

Sharon Cruikshank sees Fayetteville’s favorable ranking as a collective pat on the back for those who continually seek to improve the town’s image and opportunities.

“Any recognition is a good thing,” said the director of both the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and the New River Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The world is finally realizing that Fayette County is the place to be, whether it’s Fayetteville, Ansted or Oak Hill. These are great places to be, and we’ve always felt at home here in West Virginia. The rest of the world is starting to realize it, too. It’s comfortable to come to ‘Small Town, USA.’”

Cruikshank specifically lauded the success of several business owners mentioned in the travel piece — Gene Kistler of Water Stone Outdoors, Sharon Rynard of Studio B Gallery and Gifts, and Rick and Wendy Bayes of Cathedral Cafe.

“You never have to grow up. It’s like Neverland,” the magazine quoted Wendy Bayes as stating.

Dave Sibray, general manager of www.WVExplorer.com, one of West Virginia’s chief travel Web portals, wondered aloud why surrounding towns did not make the list.

“It begs the question — why are communities such as Oak Hill and Mount Hope not on the list, as they are also near the national river and also accessible to the U.S. 19 expressway,” he inquired.

“The difference is visual, and this is proving to be of great economic importance. Fayetteville looks good — its streets are lined with hedges and shade trees, its homes have been restored to their original appearance and its downtown isn't threatened by strip-mall development. Simply put, Fayetteville is the epitome of quaint. If other communities around the gorge hope to enjoy equal billing, they need to follow Fayetteville’s lead.”

“From a county perspective, any small town in our county that gets recognized for coolness is great,” said Kenneth Eskew, a Fayette county commissioner and Fayetteville resident.

“I would give accolades to any of our towns that would receive such an award. It’s recognition not only for the town, but Fayette County benefits as well. When you talk about all of the small towns across the United States, that’s a bunch. If we can get that kind of recognition, I think it’s great.”

The article can be found online at www.budgettravelonline.com.

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