Judges for 'Friendliest Small Town' size up Walla Walla

The winning city will be featured in USA Today's Travel page and in Rand McNally's 2013 Road Atlas.

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Tourism Walla Walla Executive Director Michael Davidson welcomes Jason and Nikki Wynn on Thursday at a welcoming ceremony held at the Pioneer Park. The Wynns are in town till Saturday. During their brief visit, they will partake of the area's attractions, as well as research the city's social attributes, to help them determine a winner for the Rand McNally Friendliest Small Town In America contest.

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Downtown Walla Walla Foundation events and public relations manager Jennifer Dilworth Northam escorts Nikki Wynn to the Pioneer Park bandstand for a welcoming ceremony.

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Jason Wynn collects video that will be used to help determine the winner of the contest.

WALLA WALLA -- A six-city tour to find the friendliest small town in America draws near to an end, but not before Jason and Nikki Wynn spend today taking in some of the best that Walla Walla has to offer.

The Wynns arrived in Walla Walla on Thursday around 5 p.m. to a small welcoming of about 25 people at Pioneer Park, while music was performed by Whitman College musicians at the bandstand.

The husband-and-wife team will spend a little more than a day in Walla Walla -- the same for each of the six finalist cities -- as the couple works to determine the winner of Rand McNally's contest: The Friendliest Small Town in America.

"It is just kind of one exciting thing after another. And as soon as you leave one town you think, 'Oh I am going to be so tired.' But you realize the next town is coming up and you are all amped and ready to get to the next place," Nikki Wynn said.

This morning, the couple was scheduled to launch their day in Walla Walla with a hot air balloon ride, but high winds canceled those plans.

Other Walla Walla events on the couple's itinerary included a horse and carriage ride through the Whitman College campus and surrounding historic neighborhoods, a tour of a historic Catherine Street home, a bike ride, a vineyard tour, a sampling of Klicker's strawberries and finishing the evening by watching Walla Walla Community College's production of "Hairspray."

But not all the contest is about seeing the sights.

"We stop people on the street, even if we are walking from one destination to another, and we'll ask, I will stop and ask somebody and say, 'Hi. My name is so and so. How are you today? Do you like your community? What is your favorite thing about living here?' Just off-the-fly questions," Wynn said.

"You can really tell when you look them in the eyes if they are friendly or not, if they are being genuine and that is kind of a good judge," Jason Wynn added.

The winning city will be featured on USA Today's Travel page and in Rand McNally's 2013 Road Atlas.

The other five finalists are Valdosta, Ga.; Mount Airy, N.C.; Woodward, Okla.; Nagadoches, Texas; and Lake Havasu City, Ariz., which will be the final city to be judged by the Wynns.

The couple leaves for Lake Havasu on Saturday, but not before visiting the Walla Walla Farmers Market and making another attempt at a balloon ride.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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