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Letters to Mike Steere

Dream Towns

Letters to Mike Steere
The author of Outside's "Dream Towns" article opens his mail

Editor's note: Mike answered the best letters online. Letters may have been edited for space and clarity.

Tuesday, July 4

I agree about Idaho Falls . . . but Spokane? Not so much anymore. How about Missoula, Montana, or Temecula, California?


Tuesday, July 4

I was surprised to see Madison included in your Dream Towns issue. Not that it isn't a nice place--I love it here. But it's not where you live that makes life dreamy or otherwise.

I expect the next issue will include nasty letters from those in the aforementioned Dream Towns, telling all Outsiders to stay away. Well, people, as much as we hate to admit it, everyone has to live somewhere, and unless you're a Native American, you're an auslander. Then again, even they had to move there. Face it, unless you're Adam or Eve (or the sectarian equivalent), you probably moved into someone else's territory.

Madison has been attracting people for centuries, and every single person who moved there has had an impact, positive or negative, on the environment here. I moved here 11 years ago from California and married a native Madisonian. People probably grumbled about the Californication of Madison when I came here, so who am I to complain about the people who want to live here?

Darren Bush

Monday, July 3

Just discovered Outside Online, great to get a fix again! After moving to Singapore a year ago, I let my subscription lapse; overseas postage is too pricey. Where did I move from? Madison, WI! So naturally I scoped your piece just now. Agree with your comments, except . . . under "Tres Madison" how do you figure on year-round biking to work! I was there for two years, working in one of those up-and-coming high tech companies, spent 15 months in Toronto prior, the rest of my life all over California. I hated the Midwest winters! Bicycling from November to March was not going to happen, my friend; they don't allow studded tires on cars, and I certainly never saw them for sale at the Yellow Jersey bike shop downtown. I did not once see a biker when all that nasty white stuff was turning the streets into ice rinks!


Monday, July 3

Obviously you've received a lot of other responses in response to your dream towns story. You should know that people living in quiet places don't want a bunch of morons invading their neighborhood. If you don't want urban sprawl where you live, you should extend that courtesy to others and quit writing misleading articles like that. But, of course those articles are bucks in your pocket.

About Madison, you glossed over the town like reporters usually do on subjects they don't know much about. You can't go mountain biking there without loading up the car and driving almost an hour. I know all those arguments you would put forth for writing articles like that and I'm sure you could eloquently defend it for hours. That's why you must just love reading these responses. But please, at least use some common sense and complete facts if you write about someone's home town. Tell what the town is really like. You must have talked to too many "hey dude!" guys. Madison has a large, older conservative population. A large influx of welfare cases are pouring in from Chicago and Milwaukee, the crime rate is rising dramatically, and Rutabaga's is way overpriced. Just because a town has a lot of outdoor shops, doesn't mean there are a lot of good outdoor activities in that area. Most people I know have to drive quite a while to do the things they like.

Would you like it if Spokane grew by 5,000 or 10,000 residents per year and drove up real estate prices? Because of articles like yours and the one in Money magazine, housing is around 10 percent more expensive each year. I can no longer afford to buy my own house. Urban sprawl in Madison is ridiculous now and will only get worse. Farmland is disappearing by the week: I commute through the country and the time between seeing a "for sale" sign on a farmers field to when the big grators come and rip it up, is not long. Is this your problem? No. Do you think you could use your media influence to help educate about issues? Please . . . .


Monday, July 3

I work for an electric utility in Reno, NV, which is merging with a utility in Spokane, WA. Your article has given me some incentive to attempt a transfer to the Inland Empire.

Was Reno, NV, considered for your list, and why didn't it make it? The recreational opportunities are excellent around Reno, and decent jobs can be found, although casino employment and inhaling second-hand smoke is still the primary means of employment. Reno, although it talks economic diversification, has done little to diversify its economy away from casinos.


Monday, July 3

In response to the gentleman who stated he would move to Montana and work in an Air Force silo, you said he sounded as if he had a fixation with missiles. It does appear he has much more insight then you gave credit for. He probably understands there is no employment in the state, and Montana leads in failed business ventures. It is truly a hard place to get a start; most people pack it in and leave after a year or so or after their savings are depleted. The cost of living is extremely high compared to some of the most of urban areas. So beware if this state is your perception of nirvana, as reality can be painful at times.


Monday, July 3

I really enjoyed the article about great places to live, but having seen what the rush of "southerners" has done to the Whitefish-Kalispell area in Montana, I wonder if we don't destroy what we search for by giving it too much publicity? Bicycling Magazine recently ran an article about a great area that the author visited on a mountain bike adventure--somewhere in Colorado, I think. How long will that remain a secret? Finally, have you seen the mess that Banff National Park has become? National Geographic covered it in their last issue, but the damage is far worse than they showed. Haven't got any answers, only questions.


Sunday, July 2

The day before traveling to Idaho Falls, Idaho, for a job interview, your "Dream Towns" issue showed up in my mailbox. Though I was reasonably confident I was going to find this city attractive, I was looking forward to gathering and weighing experiential evidence. On seeing my leading contender for new hometown among your list of seven heavens, I wasn't sure whether to consider it a dank omen or a cheery premonition. Once there, I found the town was abuzz with the magazine's characterization, and I even had to 'fess up and admit to being a longtime reader. As it turns out, the interview went well, I.F. was captivating, and I got the job.

Donny Roush
Columbus, Ohio

Friday, June 30

I have lived in Madison for about two years now and it really is a good place to live. Unfortunately, Madison's popularity is drawing tons more people, ugly strip malls, subdivisions, and more and more traffic. (It seems as if it takes about five minutes longer every day just to get out of town on my bike.) My wife and I talk about moving to a smaller, less congested university town, but we struggle with the guilt of being part of some other community's excessive growth problems. I think we'll stay here awhile yet.

Damon Bourne
Madison, WI

Thursday, June 29

My wife thanks you for the cautionary spin you put on your article this year. Previously, she'd learned to dread the arrival of the Outside's "Dream Towns" issue, as it usually resulted in my moping about the house for several days, despondent that we didn't live somewhere cooler.

But this year, you debunked the "dream town" myth, pointing out that Juneau is dark and depressing nine months of the year, and that trading a decent job in a boring town for one doling out espresso in a "cool" town might not be a good move.

So, for now, I'm counting my lucky stars...and the days until the next "dream towns" issue.

Liam Callanan
Alexandria, VA

PS: Maybe you should call it the "grass is always greener..." issue. I remember that Juneau WAS one of the earlier cool towns cited; and my hometown, Alexandria, with its miles of bike trails, 10-mile long riverfront park, and pockets of history may seem ideal to others, but too suburban to me.

Wednesday, June 28

Even though two folks in Juneau caught 60-lb. king salmon within 24 hours of each other, Juneau is still a drain hole as you described it long ago. Good to see that you are online, but still out of line.


Tuesday, June 27

Madison and Wisconsin:

  • A governor determined to gut the public intervenor's office so Exxon mining can pollute the Wolf River.
  • Madison real estate values gone wild. Sure, my house is a great investment, as long as I pay the $400/month property taxes.
  • A Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired lakeside convention center that won't pay back what it's going to cost property owners.
  • State residents so deluded by the conceit that Wisconsin politics are "clean" (Joe McCarthy aside, hee hee), that unctuous cretins like Gov. Tommy Thompson and his skid-greasing financiers are free to redesign the state budget and the structure of state government at their whim.
  • Soul-less housing sprawl.
  • An excellent university overrun with people who deserve four years in their own state school in Champaign/Urbana.
  • Finally, hundreds of people who move here, but leave the Colorado, Washington, Utah, Minnesota, Oregon, and California plates on their vehicles, reminding us of the blight that comes with asinine articles about best places to live.
ENOUGH already! Madison is on the other side of curve. Moronic, greedy growth has made Madison, on balance, more ugly than beautiful. The Madison you think you've found has been gone at least ten years. You saw the fading image of what this place had been once. You heard an echo. You were dreaming. Next time, keep it to yourself. It's just more eye candy, Geraldo journalism that serves no one. It teaches people to not see the worthwhile at their doorsteps and brings them gape-mouthed to places like Madison.


Mike Steere replies: Who taught you not to see the worthwhile from your own doorstep? If you're paying $400 in property taxes it's probably a very nice doorstep. Madison isn't what it used to be. Nor is Beaver Dam or Oconomowoc or wherever you came from. I admired Madison 10 years ago and 20 years before that, and it remains as admirable as ever. The city itself, not magazine articles, accounts for its popularity among out-of-staters, whom you so abhor.

Enough already! You said it. Quit this raging against people you don't know, for causing problems that are undoubtedly more personal than municipal.

Monday, June 26

As a recent addition to Madison, having moved here last August to become a grad student in the Political Science Dept. of the University of Wisconsin, I must say that your pick of Madison as the number one dream town is right on target! What a great place to live--close enough (but far enough away) to/from Chicago, close to all sorts of great outdoor getaways, and a wonderful town in its own right!

Thanks for confirming my suspicions that MadTown is a first-class town.

Michael Mosser
UW--Madison Political Science Dept.

Monday, June 26

By God, please do not go around proclaiming places great to live in. Especially if they are outdoorsy. Here in Scottsdale, AZ, the Sonoran Desert is getting chewed up by bulldozers an acre an hour for people who think this is a great place to live.

Half the population of this town came in the last five years, it seems. The places I would go to just sit a year ago no longer exist. They have been paved over with subdivisions. The City Council here is putting a ban on new building permits because we don't have any money to buy water anymore. This is a desert, you know. However, the people who are moving here now can't deal with that, so we're remaking the town for them. And the desert gets chewed up and the feeling of this place changes. Take me very seriously.

So the very quality of life that attracts people to this city is what they destroy by moving here. Quality of life is not something you can acquire--it is an attitude. And all the stucco and Southwest furniture you want will not create that quality of life for you. By the same token, you don't need to live in Scottsdale to have that goddamn "Scottsdale Lifestyle" that the chamber of commerce pumps out. Immigrants here pay gobs of money to have a huge pseudo-adobe house on a big lot in the foothills so they can be "closer to Nature." It's so ironic. My family, however, may not have the material goods, but we have the attitude. We are revegetating our '70s deep-suburban yard with all native plants. We're ripping out the godforsaken palms and olives and planting lovely mesquites and jojoba bushes. And we've put up birdfeeders and we scatter seed for the quail.

And that, my friend, is quality of life. That is what living in Sonoran Desert is all about. (We also have a rain barrel.) Any place you may live is the greatest outdoor town in America, as long as you have a nice shady spot in the front yard to just sit and watch the beauty of Nature flow around you and through you. So it upsets me to see more towns destroyed by being proclaimed "paradise." What you are seeking is around you and inside you right now; though a nice wholesome environment helps.

Thank you for your time,

Dan Johnson

Mike Steere replies: Thank you for your time, Dan. Sorry to upset you. Let Nature flow, and you and your "'70s deep-suburban" patch of restored Sonoran Desert will be OK.

The seeds for the quail aren't store-bought, are they? Just checking. We do take you seriously.

Saturday, June 24

Your number of 170K for Madison population is the 1980 census number. The 1990 census number is 190K, and, of course, it's higher now.

Scott Rose

Editor's note: Hmm. We'll put the fact checkers back on this one.

Friday, June 23

I am interested to know whether or not you have checked out Athens, GA, and what you concluded. My wife and I are planning a move this fall or winter. Athens, GA, and Asheville, NC, are the two top spots. Mountain biking is our primary outdoor activity and will play a part in our decision where to move. I know that Asheville has great spots in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mts. nearby, but I am unsure about Athens. Any help?


Mike Steere replies: Check out the profile of Asheville in my last Dream Towns piece in the June 1992 Outside. (See the note to Allen Parker on June 22 for information on how to order back issues.) Re Athens: Zeroed-in on Charlottesville before we had a chance to learn a great deal about it, other than it's widely regarded as a great place to live.

Friday, June 23

Just wondering where the cover caption for Burlington came from: "Where the women are strong, the men are handsome, and everyone recycles." One has to wonder if the cold has to do with the "strong" reference. Just how long did you spend in our fair city that just keeps getting better every year?

Christopher Minott

Mike Steere replies: Cover blurbs come from a parallel dimension, which we writers cannot enter. About 60 hours, the last of which was double-digit below zero.

Friday, June 23

Mike, as a Chicagoan always yearning for a more cycling-friendly (and warmer) place to live, I enjoyed your article. I used to think Boulder was the ultimate bike racer town to live in but I have been hearing great things about Durango from people who live there, or used to live there. It seems to have become the mtn. bike racer Mecca in recent years. I have been thinking wishful thoughts about it for at least a year now but haven't been there yet! Your article added an extra dimension for me, I wish there had been space for you to go into greater depth on each town!

The question you must often get: After visiting all these places, why you still live here?!

Amy Dykema

Mike Steere replies: When we're not saying how much we like Chicago's nutso metro energy and all the stuff we can walk to--Suzie and I ask each other the same question.

What's your answer?

Friday, June 23

I'm sorry Bro: I didn't really take time to have a good look at yer blurb concerning Charlottesville, Va. Lemme tell ya though: The Commonwealth of Virginia is a (I lose my temper when I even think about it).

The taxes are criminal. The folks involved in the state government are just slightly to the right of Genghis Kahn. An unmarried woman is becoming an endangered species there. I would NEVER recommend that anyone I cared about even consider investing any part of there lives in Virginia.

My family have been Virginians for many generations. It gives me no joy to say these things. If you value freedom and the American way of liberty, invest no tax dollar in the fascist regime of the Commonwealth.

Chip Mefford

Mike Steere replies: Bro: I'm sorry, too. The Commonwealth has been pretty rough on you. All those people I met, who really seemed to love C'ville--were they secret fascists?

Friday, June 23

I won't bash your assessment of the towns that you chose, but in a way I can see where Rocky is coming from and I agree with him to a point. The thing that he is not acknowledging is that growth and movement in the West is historically cyclical--it always has been like this. First there were the Spanish, then eventually there came the gold rush types, then there was a boom in uranium, later a boom in shale, now the boom is in recreation. Every time there has been a serious lull in activity and, usually, a reversal in the regional growth between surges. This time is no different. Especially in the young, cool generation, which I am a part of. I have many friends who moved west and are now looking to go back to Florida or New York. That's fine. I grew up in western Colorado and went to school in the Midwest, then moved back to Albuquerque to live. I don't plan on leaving anytime soon and I have become significantly involved with the community here. As these young guys get settled in a place they get comfortable with, they will become involved with the community and be an asset to the region. Until then, the Rocky Barkers will have to accept those mobile folks and make them feel at home as long as possible. Maybe there are some great community leaders out there who need to be encouraged.

Sinjin Eberle

Mike Steere replies: No, the Spanish weren't first. . . . What about the Anasazi boom and bust? Did Chaco have a Rocky Barker?

Thursday, June 22

Haven't read the whole story yet, but next time check out Duluth, Mn. It is a great sports town. Sits right on Lake Superior, very close to the BWCA and not too far to Canada. A truly four seasons town.

Tim Anderson
Okinawa, Japan

Mike Steere replies: Did indeed check out Duluth, in person last year. I learned to love the place--which is like nowhere else in the mid-continent U.S.--working on oreboats. But it seemed, for the magazine's purposes, a bit battered and grim. But my wife and I daydream about renting a house down on Minnesota Point, maybe in the winter.

Thursday, June 22

In that particular article, were there any towns in UTAH that came close to the top of your dream town listing?? If so, what are they? I have an opportunity to move to the Ogden vicinity and was curious.


Mike Steere replies: Allen Parker may have an answer for you. (See below.)

Wednesday, June 21

Yo Mike: Great article on the towns that you've profiled in the last issue of OUTSIDE. The way I see it, you've either got to have the big bucks, connections, or work two to three jobs. However, there are a hundred other "Dream Towns" out there that will take quite a while to be discovered. Great article and keep up the enviable "job."


Mike Steere replies: Hmm. Maybe discovery or undiscovery isn't the issue, Eddie. Things are tough all over, even in nightmare towns. Where doesn't it help to have money, influential friends, or work day and night?

Thursday, June 22

I thought that the article touting the virtues of Spokane was basically right on the mark. However, you omitted a few outdoor attractions: great fly-fishing, mountain biking, Silver Mountain and Schwietzer ski resorts, the Dishman Hills nature area, short commutes. Thanks for leaving them out. We don't want to make it too attractive.


Thursday, June 22

A question prompted by your article. Several of the towns you profiled were university towns, such as Madison and Charlottesville. My sense has always been, especially in Charlottesville (and other places like Raleigh-Durham) that someone coming in from the outside would have a hard time getting a job compared with someone from the resident university. In Charlottesville, any jobs in the area seemed to go to UVA graduates. (It is a nice enough place that people wanted to stay.) What do you think?

Jeff Mazer

Mike Steere replies: Your sense that old-grad networks rule campus towns, and wall out those who didn't go to the local U, seems gut-level right. Maybe folks living in university cities can tell us if it the gut is right.

Thursday, June 22

I enjoyed your article on Dream Towns. I am currently looking for a position as a secondary English teacher and the market is looking really bad here in Columbus, Ohio. Aside from that, Columbus is probably the only town in the country where it is almost impossible to find any outdoor activities within a one-hour drive from the city.

I was wondering if you have any more information on the towns in your article or on any other Dream Towns that could be of use. I am currently looking to relocate and any help would be welcomed. Also, if you know anything about the market for teachers in any of these towns, please let me know. Thanks for the article and for any possible help you may be able to provide.

Jim Lodico

Mike Steere replies: The only revelation about teachers' jobs in this batch of Dream Towns involved Spokane, a reportedly tough place to get a position. Somewhere on the Net there must be good information, but we non-teachers don't know where. Help for Jim, anybody?

Thursday, June 22

You kinda forgot to mention that the Idaho National Engineering Lab has reduced its workforce more than 1,500 people in the last nine months, and is slated to lose 1,700 more between Oct. '95 and Sep. '96.

Not a lot of incentive for professional types to come here anymore.

Dave Remien

Mike Steere replies: Jobs at the site may, indeed, be getting fewer, but the profile of I.F. emphasizes widening opportunities for non-atomic, non-aggie newcomers. Shouldn't diversification and growth soften the blow?

Thursday, June 22

I was interested in finding out how to get a copy of the 1992 Dream Town article, especially the section about Boise. I grew up there and am interested in what you had to say about it. Thanks.

By the way, I think that I have another dream town--Logan, Utah. It is beautiful here. The only real drawback I can see is the difficulty of building a career here. I enjoyed your article.

Allen Parker

Editor's Note: You can order copies of past articles by sending $5 per copy to Back Issues, Outside, 400 Market St., Santa Fe, NM 87501. Payment must accompany orders.

Thursday, June 22

What is the point about writing about so-called "dream-towns" that are already ruined, over-priced, without viable job opportunities? A real dream town would have wonderful recreation, reasonable job prospects, and a sane housing market. Your list only makes these towns sound like nightmares!


Mike Steere replies: There wouldn't be much point, would there? Take another look at the sections about Madison and Spokane, where prospects for making a living and the cost of living look good.

Wednesday, June 21

I live near the southern tip of New Jersey. Situated in the pine barrens and right along the marshy shores of the Atlantic oceans inland waterway. Sure does sound beautiful...doesn't it? Unfortunately it is also within sight of that urban blight known as Atlantic City. My well water has to be filtered because it's about as polluted as the lower Hudson, and let me mention that when I mtn. bike the beautiful pine barren Jeep trails and sandy single tracks, I have to contend with what some, or it would seem many locals, have taken to an art form: the illegal dumping of both household and building material garbage.

My point being this. While the illusion this area's patina gives to the casual observer seems wonderful (After all this is a huge tourist Mecca!), the close-up reality is note quite as rosy. The only way I can see to truly find an ideal atmosphere is to join the Air Force, move to Montana, work in a silo, and hope for the best.

The answer to the question of why I haven't taken my own advice is that I'm to old for the AF, I'm in front of a computer monitor, and I take long vacations in the NY Adirondacks.

Brian Gochal

Mike Steere replies: Strange, the way mass destruction works its way into your fantasy. Other Montana-dreamers fixate on fly-fishing, or opening terrific little art galleries and book shops in the next Bozeman (wherever that may be). Why the warhead-tipped missile? Did New Jersey do this to you?

Wednesday, June 21

What about the Twin Cities? We're just as cool as those cheeseheads in Madison and we have the nation's first bicycle freeway. We have over 400 miles of dedicated bike paths and we have the first St. Paul classic coming up Sept.10, 1985.


Mike Steere replies: Minneapolis was, in fact, in a past Outside great places to live story. If the St. Paul Classic is really coming up on Sept. 10, 1985, as your e-mail read, our pick, Madison, makes even more sense. The cheeseheads are 10 years ahead of you.

Wednesday, June 21

My husband and I are midwestern rock climbers (Devil's Lake, Wis.) and have researched lots of different areas to where we would eventually like to move. We hit on Grand Junction, among certain other places out west. Your article was timed just perfect, and helped us confirm what we thought about where we'd like to live. Just wanted to say "thanks" for doing the leg work for us and ask if you have any other info about Grand Junction, CO.


Mike Steere replies: You're welcome. Grand Junction was one of our near misses in the 1995 Dream Town search.

Tuesday, June 20

As a Wisconsinite born and bred, as well as an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was thrilled but not too surprised to find Madison listed as one of your dream towns. What Mike Steere has discovered is something anyone who's ever visited Madison already knows; it is a little bit of heaven. I try to get back there from Milwaukee as often as possible, even if it's just to walk down State Street. In fact, your article had me pining for Madison so much, I called my college roommates and we're all meeting there for a reminiscent weekend--if only the weekend were enough time.

Jime Kuse

Mike Steere replies: Isn't Milwaukee's East Side, one of urban America's tastier secrets, some consolation for the loss of Madison? One thing I missed in Madison--famous UW ice cream (at Babcock Hall, or something like that). Is it as good as its reputation?

Hope you and your buddies have a primal good time.

Tuesday, June 20

I could not agree more that Burlington and the surrounding Chittenden area is the best. Part of this is that it is in Vermont and the other part is the people. Nowhere are the people as good or as sincere. Vermont is the best, of course, you have to like cold weather and mud season.

David Sunshine

Mike Steere replies: So where are people especially bad and insincere? Outside will eliminate such places from Dream Town consideration.

Wednesday, June 14

I noted that your article on Dream Towns ("This Isn't Heaven, It's Madison, Wisconsin", July 1995) does not mention my home town, Tucson.

Robert Renaud
Tucson, AZ

Mike Steere replies: So tell us why Tucson should have been included. Before long, we'll be hunting Dream Towns again.

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