By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
After mining the Joplin Museum Complex for the city’s lead and zinc mining history, Robert Schatz and Jennifer Jordon licked a tough assignment at the Candy House Chocolate Factory on Wednesday.
Joplin is one of six finalists in the Rand McNally/USA Today “Best of the Road” contest for friendliest small city in the country. Schatz and Jordon, nicknamed the Rogue Riders, are the judges for the category, and they arrived Wednesday.
They are seasoned travelers already. They have lived in Denver, Los Angeles and New Orleans, and have taken trips on the West Coast and to Pensacola, Fla., in the past 18 months.
Jordon said that while they like to travel as a hobby, they also move around to do work in the television production industry.
“Our trips were kind of work, kind of fun and kind of adventure, all rolled up in one,” Jordon said.
The “Best of the Road” contest has five categories. Other categories are most beautiful, most fun, most patriotic and best food. Teams of amateur travel bloggers like the Rogue Riders dash across the country visiting the finalists. They will decide winners in each category and announce them at the Destination Marketing Association International convention next month in Seattle.
Along the way, they blog and post videos and photographs about the places they visit. One team will win a $10,000 prize for its work. The cities that prevail in the various categories will be highlighted in the Rand McNally atlas and can use their victories to promote themselves.
The team’s visit started Wednesday with a sunrise hot-air balloon ride to provide a view of the Shoal Creek valley around McIndoe Park. It was too windy for the balloon to take off, and organizers with the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau opted to send the judges up for a tethered ride.
Around the corner from McIndoe Park, they toured Cycle Connection to get a feel for hitting the road on two wheels.
After that, they were welcomed to City Hall by representatives of most city departments.
“It has been a spectacular day already,” Jordon told the city employees who waved city flags as they introduced themselves.
At the Joplin Museum Complex, Director Brad Belk led them on a tour of Joplin’s ore collection as well as local history exhibits. Local artist Linda Lindquist Baldwin presented them with her “Snickles Survivors,” her papier-mache characters that were found after the 2011 tornado destroyed most of the work she had in storage. Their visit would not have been complete without a visit by Percy Katz, the museum’s feline mascot, who approached for the obligatory pat on the head.
During their visit to the Candy House, they joked about being probationary employees as they learned to dip strawberries.
“I am literally a kid in a candy store,” Schatz said, mugging for the camera, before he learned the technique of dipping. He mastered the first dip. On the second, he pulled the fat, red berry from the smooth chocolate and chomped off a big bite.
“You’re fired,” Jordon teased, pointing at the half-eaten berry.
Later in the day, they visited Cunningham Park.
AmeriCorps volunteer Angela Rineer, 24, of Reading, Pa., was one of the people who went to the park to greet the judges. She arrived in Joplin 10 days ago to help manage an influx of new volunteers. She said 1,000 volunteers are arriving daily to work on Joplin’s recovery.
“It is so welcoming here,” Rineer said of Joplin. “Everyone is filled with such hope and happiness in spite of what happened here just a year ago. It has been such an awesome experience.”
Jordon said her first day in Joplin was an emotional one.
“It’s definitely inspiring to see the community come together,” she said. “Everyone has taken such a tragedy and turned it into something good.”
The Rogue Riders’ travels can be followed on the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau’s page on Facebook. They also can be found online at www.bestoftheroad.com. They will be in Joplin through Friday.
In the running
JOPLIN WILL BE COMPETING against Murray, Ky.; Frisco, Texas; College Station, Texas; Cloudcroft, N.M.; and San Luis Obispo, Calif.
THE JUDGING TEAM MEMBERS visited Murray before coming to Joplin. They were greeted there with a cookout in a park. They took tours by plane and boat, and watched cliff divers. “Excellent local food,” they said of Murray.