published Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Outside Magazine praises, slams Chattanooga in cover story

Ranks Scenic City as best place to live while rattling off list of faults

An aerial view of AT&T field and Downtown Chattanooga looking East.
An aerial view of AT&T field and Downtown Chattanooga looking East.
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  • Best town ever?
    Watch as rock climbers and mountain bikers talk about Chattanooga being named the "Best Town Ever" by Outside Magazine.
Was Outside Magazine fair to Chattanooga?

More than one-third of online voters chose Chattanooga as the "best town ever" in Outside magazine's contest to determine the nation's foremost outdoors destination.

That's a "hands down" win, said Ryan Krogh, the magazine's research editor.

But the cover story in Outside's October issue reads more like a chapter from writer Chuck Thompson's upcoming book slamming the South than an ode to an outdoors paradise.

Thompson, who plans to release a book in 2012 about the South called "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession," said Monday that, although he liked Chattanooga, "I don't think that readers of Outside want some whitewashed version of everything."

In between nods to the Scenic City's nationally renowned rock climbing, hang gliding, bike riding and rafting, the Oregon-based writer took swipes at what he saw as Chattanooga's political incorrectness.

"It's not easy twisting your head around the idea of Outside's Best Town being in a place with a history of monstrous industrial abuse ... ubiquitous evangelical dogma, and a reputation for red-state conservatism," he wrote in the article.

Social issues aside, Thompson said he had a blast and will return.

His literary pokes at the city were somewhat "tongue-in-cheek," he said, and were actually meant to convey the idea that "when you're sitting on a tourist gold mine," too much publicity could ruin the city.

"The texture changes when people flood the place," he said.

But he stands by his municipal review, including his summary of the "hookup scene" as "lacking," and a quote by an anonymous single that Chattanooga is "a town of sixes, and barely enough of those."

  • photo
    The cover of the October issue of Outside Magazine teases the “Where to Live Now” story featuring Chattanooga.

apples and oranges?

Thompson's comparison of the city's political structure and dating scene with its outdoor attributes left a few outdoorsmen confused -- and not just because a photo of the Walnut Street Bridge was mislabeled as being Veterans Bridge.

"Those seem like some weird things to be talking about for winning an outdoor award," said Michael Phillips, Chattanooga-based owner of online retailer

But Thompson said it's only natural to evaluate a city on all its merits, not just the ones tourists see when they're in the woods.

"You can only talk about mountains and rivers and sunsets for so long," he said. "The real stories are about the people that you meet."

To that end, an upcoming paddleboard race at the city's River Rocks festival is just one of a number of high-profile events that tourism officials say are bringing in ever-growing numbers of bikers, boaters and hikers to visit and live in Chattanooga.

Events such as River Rocks represent the marriage between athletic events and social occasions, officials said, and give visitors a chance to evaluate a city not just on the pros and cons of its trails, but on its dining, dating and drinking.

"No location has all perfect factors all the time, but when you look at the overriding benefits of the outdoors here -- the fact that rock climbers are moving here because of a certain type of rock climbing -- that's pretty cool, and they'll take on whatever small minor elements there are to reap the big benefits," said Steve Genovisi, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One such rock climber, Floridian Dan Kasthel, said political or religious considerations don't really factor into a decision to visit Chattanooga for his group of six climbers.

"This is one of the triumvirate of big rock climbing places in the Southeast," he said. "That's the primary reason I'm here."

Though climbers tend to be a "liberal group of pot-smoking hippies," he said he has yet to encounter any hostility from Chattanooga residents.

  • Publication: Outside magazine, October 2011 issue
  • Paid circulation: 675,000
  • What: 21,975 voters participated in an online "Best Town Ever" contest that saw Chattanooga take the top spot
  • How many: 7,434 voters, or 33.8 percent, chose Chattanooga
  • Feature: "Sweet Home ... Chattanooga?"
  • Author: Chuck Thompson, author of the forthcoming "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession" and "Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer."
  • Quote: "The best cities are sometimes the ones that haven't quite arrived. They are places where people talk more about momentum and the future and promises yet to be fulfilled than about skyrocketing home values and what a [pain] it is to park downtown."

cost of living

The city's jobs-friendly climate also allows a broader swath of outdoor enthusiasts to live in the city, compared with more expensive cities on the list such as Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, Vt., and Thompson's current home, Portland, Ore.

The $128,000 median home value in Chattanooga, for instance, compares extremely favorably with the $477,700 median home price in Boulder, the $249,900 houses in Burlington and $296,100 median home prices in Portland.

Don Stock, rock-climbing president and owner of Chattanooga-based The Adventure Guild, doesn't agree with the notion that a city must be progressive or liberal to qualify as an outdoors icon.

"Everybody has their own angle on how to do life and faith, or lack of faith," Stock said.

Stock, who himself is both a man of faith and an outdoorsman, said the region's conservative values "don't diminish the fact that there's great art, great music, great climbing and great boating."

"Actually it sounds a little like sour grapes to me, since Portland didn't get voted the top spot," he said, picking on the author's hometown.

For his primary source in the Outside article, Thompson quoted Chattanoogan Trevor Childress, an outdoors enthusiast who spent a day guiding the travel writer through hang gliding, swimming, hiking, climbing and kayaking.

Although Childress disparaged Chattanooga's climate and pooh-poohed its selection as "best town ever" in the magazine, Childress now says he was quoted unfairly and out of context and added that he is "absolutely in love with Chattanooga."

"He makes me out to be a little bit more negative than I am about Chattanooga," said Childress, who works for city-owned Outdoor Chattanooga. "He was trying to dig up as much negative stuff as possible for his book, and he's not a big fan of the South."

"He tries really hard to find a reason not to like Chattanooga," he said. "But you've got to look at the author."

Thompson acknowledged that a city with nonprogressive leanings is "not incompatible at all" with the idea of an outdoors utopia.

"There is a prejudice that some people have out here in the liberal Northwest, that red state Republicanism is not compatible," he said. "I think it might surprise people that a conservative Republican leader [U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.] was the driving force behind that riverfront."

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about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Ramblinwreck said...

Can we then hope that this writer will not be moving to the area. My experience is that many people who move to the tri-state area want it to be just like where they moved from but with a better view, better climate and more polite neighbors. Typical liberal arrogance and eliteism.

September 13, 2011 at 6:51 a.m.
chatttn said...

Yankees are like hemorrhoids, once they come down they never go back up. hehe

September 13, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
Veritas said...

Now that the Yankee Bastards have given us permission to secede (as if we needed it) let's do it before they change their minds. God Save the South from Yankee Carpetbaggers!

September 13, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

God created the Garden of Eden, so what's not Christian about liking the outdoors? But atheism is the theory that it's OK to eat atheists--whatever happens is nature--so on that theory, phooey to his complaints. Since he's complaining, he's admitting there are standards: meet God the Judge, boy, and ask His Son Jesus Christ what He wants to be your lawyer.

September 13, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.
ValleyDweller said...

Let them keep their prejudices about Chattanooga. It means less will move here. Chattanooga is an amazing city and the next 20 years is going to see even more amazing change and growth.

September 13, 2011 at 10:49 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

What is taking so long to dismiss Childress from his duties, talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Now he is claiming he was taken out of context, just the remedy for knowing that you spoke how you truly felt about the city which is paying your salary. FIRE HIM, even better force him to resign

September 13, 2011 at 10:56 a.m.
southerncastist said...

Read the article. I'm sure Childress feels a little regretful this morning, but it is a flattering, humorous article that depicts Chattanooga as an outdoor mecca--ticks, chiggers and humidity not withstanding.

Oh, and the guy talking about the sixes? He must have been trolling for dudes.

September 13, 2011 at 11:11 a.m.
twharr said...

I'm a liberal Chattanoogan who loves his town. As far as the dating scene I'm racking up. It sounds like this dude was trying to find a reason why his town wasn't voted # 1. A friend told me a long time ago if someone isn't hating on you then you are doing something wrong. I think we Noogans are doing something extremely right. With that said, enough with the unity, it's time to attack you wingnuts on another blog.

September 13, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.
Justreading said...

What does the "hook up scene" have to do with outdoor activities? I would much rather this Liberal Yankee Pervert just stay away from here to begin with.

September 13, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.
reker13 said...

My sister lived in the hipster area of Seattle for a number of years. When I went to visit, her friends would question me about living in the "South". The people out there have some very strong views about who we are, how we live, what we think, etc. Some were kind to me others were what some call snobby elitists. I have a friendly, laid back, and congenial disposition with just a little southern accent. Yet, when I would nicely correct their misconceptions, some would become very angry at me for defending myself and southerners. Anyway, the further to the left they were politically, most I encountered were borderline communist, the more entrenched they were with their false notions. No amount of logic or common sense would change their take on how we 'think' in the South.

In the end, I learned a lot. My experience tells me that this guy could have entered our city with a lot of the same bias and misconceptions about our town trying to reinforce that viewpoint while here. I heard directly many of the things cited in the article years ago. But hey, that is 'ok'. If it makes them feel better about themselves and their town and view of the world, then so be it.

September 13, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.
LibDem said...

Reading through the comments here, I wonder if Mr. Thompson might have noticed that some Chattanoogans are bitter and angry.

Chattanooga is a great city and its residents can be proud. Don't get mad, just have fun.

September 13, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.
LibDem said...

No, I haven't, L4F. Why would I?

September 13, 2011 at 5:33 p.m.
Thor said...

You've got to be kidding me. Chattanooga is a horrible city. It's full of bigots, gangsters, fake gangsters, fake Christians and Sunday Christians. The bible belt is a joke and Southern Hospitality is a myth. Not all the people in the city are horrible, but most of them I met fit in the categories listed above. There are some real Christians there and that's great but they are few and far between. Chattanooga has some decent scenery, but the downtown is definitely a joke, most of the neighborhoods are filled with crime and/or meth heads, and the list goes on and on. It's also surrounded by the backwoods too and most of the people in those areas are worse than the majority of the Chattanoogans.

September 13, 2011 at 9:10 p.m.
HimJim37 said...

I just read the Outdoor article. I think the criticism of Chattanooga was, for the most part, intended to be a humorous depiction of the way local outdoor enthusiasts are terrified that their city will become inundated by tourists on the basis of one article. Obviously some readers didn't catch the joke, including the TFP. Much of the article compliments Chattanooga's outdoor access, including the the poll, which was the premise of the article. Remember, it's called "Outdoor" magazine and not "Jesus Loves My Li'l Southern City" magazine. It's true that many Chattanoogans have little appreciation for where there are in the world because there are too busy commuting to Ootlewah in monster trucks and thumping each other on the noggin with the Bible. Their loss. It's still a great place to explore the outdoors.

September 13, 2011 at 9:32 p.m.
Thor said...

@payingattention and I appreciate your honesty too. Thanks for providing the info on the voting and for those statistics.

I never understand how Chattanooga makes these little "best of" lists when there are soooo many better cities to live and go on vacation. I know some people love it and that's good for them, but this city is definitely not for my family and I.

September 13, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.
Reality said...

I completely agree with Thor. Saying Chattanooga is one of The Best Towns Ever is totally obsurd! I lived there for at least half of my life so I speak from experience. Sure it has some pretty scenery. And a few cool places. However get to the meat of the city and there lies the bleak, shallow reality. Culture? None. Good melting pot of people? No way. The reality of Chattanooga is it's a very shallow pond of small minded people. Good old boys, conservative, backwoods, Walmart dwellers. It pretends to be impressive but it's just smoke and mirrors. I promise anyone that considers moving there will regret it. Maybe go for a little vacation - you'll see all you need to see in a few days. You can dress a pig up in a dress but it's still a pig.

September 17, 2011 at 1:16 p.m.
BillVol said...

I have mixed views on our city.

Much truth can be found on almost all of the posts above, both positive and negative.

I really don't see how anyone, whether you like Chattanooga or not, can debate that it is a beautifully situated city.

What is interesting is that it appeals to some transplants while others hate it. In that regard, we are not any different than any other city in the world. Every city in the world has good points and bad points.

However, the article was intended to be about outdoor activities and we won the voting handily. I don't see how you can argue with that, either.

October 4, 2011 at 11:23 p.m.
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