Jekyll falls short in vote
Favorite state park bid pays off, but not in money

The Brunswick News

By ANNA FERGUSON HALL
9/7/2011

Jekyll Island apparently won't break into the top three spots and collect any prize money in a contest to be chosen as the nation's favorite state park, but a fifth-place finish isn't bad, either, said Erica England, spokeswoman for the Jekyll Island Authority.

With online polls closing Tuesday night, the island state park had apparently retained its long-held No. 5 spot in the Coca-Cola America's Favorite Park contest.

"We never even thought we'd get this far," England said. "It's just amazing how supportive the community has been."

For six weeks, the island had been vying in the online campaign to earn the title of America's Favorite Park and win the top prize of $100,000. Second place would have landed $75,000, while third place meant $50,000.

With 507,251 votes at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jekyll Island was more than 1.2 million votes off the 1,740,921 votes of Cunningham Park in New York for third place and money. Oak Park in North Dakota held first place, with 3,196,822 votes, and Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Minnesota was second, with 2,834,434 votes. Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Tennessee led Jekyll in fourth place, with 986,232 votes.

Although Jekyll Island won't be handed a check for its fifth-place ranking, the exposure given to the Golden Isles gem through the experience has been priceless, England said.

The social media and marketing aspect of the campaign provided the island with a network of online followers, both on the coast and across the nation. That is a prize beyond measure, she said.

"We've had people all over the country voting for us," she said. "People who have been to Jekyll from across the country, they are voting for us and getting their friends to vote, too. It was really a great way for us to market ourselves to an audience that otherwise might not know about us."

When the park voting contest was launched in late July, it wasn't exactly on England's radar. But after the park suddenly shot into the top 10 rankings during the campaign's first week, England and island fans took note, watching as Jekyll steadily collected more and more votes, as well as more and more fans on social media sites, such as Facebook.

Local group initiatives went a long way in helping spread the word about voting, with an online network of Facebook friends sending out reminders and e-mails to fellow voters on a regular basis.

Unlike a government election, this one allowed people to vote early and often.

Several weeks into the campaign, the park got a big-nod vote from Gov. Nathan Deal, who sent out a statewide statement encouraging Georgians to hop online and support Jekyll.

The Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the park, formed its own voting campaign, with employees aiming to get in at least 150 votes a day to be members of the "150 Club," England said.

"People really worked together to help us with this, and it worked," England said. "Everyone really just got out there and campaigned for us. We're very grateful and very proud."