10 Tiny Towns with Big Tourism Dreams

Oakridge, Ore.
The Cascades are filled with beautiful and challenging mountain biking trails. © Chase Jarvis/CORBIS

Population: 3,200 [source: City Data]

By the 1990s, the decline of the Northwest logging industry had left Oakridge, Ore., in dire economic straits [source: Blancett]. Jobs disappeared. Stores closed. People left. That could have been the end of the story.

Oakridge, however, discovered something about itself: People very much wanted access to the 350 miles (563 kilometers) of nearby mountain-biking trails running through the stunning Cascade Mountains.

The former logging town had never been much for welcoming out-of-towners to its Lane County enclave, but a new generation of residents (and their marketing department) see it differently. Tourism, they believe, will help rebuild their community [source: Letson].

And so the town started calling itself the "Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest," and the rebranding stuck. The campaign's success in drawing tourism is clear, not just in numbers of visitors and new tourism-related jobs (at least 7,000 in Lane County) but also in the town itself: Residents note new stores, new restaurants (offering yogurt, granola and other mountain-biker-friendly foods), new homes and new families [sources: Travel Oregon, Letson].

Some members of the older logging generation aren't thrilled with the granola thing, but as the fruits of Oakridge's new branding start to show, they appear to be coming around [source: Letson].