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Fastest-Growing Towns in Rural America

Joel Anderson
Fastest-Growing Towns in Rural America

For a lot of Americans, city life is just not for them. Sure, it’s nice to have so many amenities and options for food and entertainment, but you can get that from a visit. Meanwhile, living in a city is usually an expensive, crowded experience that isn’t worth it for the sort of people who enjoy living in a much smaller community. Fortunately for them, America’s landscape is essentially a pointillist painting made up of thousands of small towns — each offering its own unique charm.

Seeing as there must be something attracting people to these areas, GOBankingRates set out to determine which rural towns have experienced the most growth in population recently. Starting with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s definition for a rural town — 500 to 50,000 people and not in a major urban area — the study took the total increase and percentage increase in population over five years, scored the towns based on those numbers and then combined the scores to balance the towns with the largest overall increase and the town with the largest proportional gain. The end result is a list of small towns in America that are clearly attracting a lot of new residents.

Metolius, Oregon

  • 2012-17 average population: 1,003
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 391
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 51.99%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,636

Located just east of The Cove Palisades State Park, Metolius is the fastest-growing rural town in Oregon.

Pictured: Metolius River

Napoleonville, Louisiana


  • 2012-17 average population: 620
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 294
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 64.05%
  • 2017 per capita income: $13,952

South of Baton Rouge near Lake Verret, Napoleonville is growing at a fast pace. One just hopes that living in such a small town doesn’t give residents a Napoleonville Complex.

Roosevelt, Utah


  • 2012-17 average population: 6,457
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 743
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 12.33%
  • 2017 per capita income: $23,433

Roosevelt, Utah, added 743 new residents from 2012 to 2015. That’s a 12.33% jump for this town located south of Ashley National Forest on the edge of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

Pictured: Roosevelt Memorial Park

Stanley, North Dakota


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,096
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 589
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 31,03%
  • 2017 per capita income: $36,494

Stanley, North Dakota, lies between the Canadian Border and the Missouri River near the northernmost portion of the famed river.

Basin, Wyoming


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,321
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 480
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 43.88%
  • 2017 per capita income: $20,697

Situated along the Bighorn River and between Yellowstone National Park and Bighorn National Forest, Basin is the only Wyoming town to make the list.

Pictured: Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park

Chisolm, Maine


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,196
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 463
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 46.07%
  • 2017 per capita income: $26,550

Chisolm lies within the town of Jay, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland, Maine.

New Town, North Dakota


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,209
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 604
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 32.56%
  • 2017 per capita income: $26,474

New Town is located on the Missouri River and south of another fast-growing rural town, Stanley. It was founded by a group of settlers who were clearly not very creative with names.

Ephraim, Utah


  • 2012-17 average population: 6,467
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 773
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 12.7%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,900

Next to the Manti-La Sal National Forest, Ephraim, Utah, is home to Snow College — a local community college.

Copenhagen, New York


  • 2012-17 average population: 644
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 320
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 66.25%
  • 2017 per capita income: $26,883

No, not that Copenhagen. This one would be an Upstate New York town sitting just east of Lake Ontario and northeast of a cluster of nature areas that include the Pickney, Lookout and Tug Hill State Forests. So, much smaller in size and probably a lot fewer options for good Danish food than its better-known namesake.

Quincy, California


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,555
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 551
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 39.78%
  • 2017 per capita income: $24,417

Northwest of Sacramento, Quincy is completely surrounded by the Plumas National Forest.

Lake Madison, South Dakota


  • 2012-17 average population: 767
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 344
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 65.03%
  • 2017 per capita income: $48,167

The 344 new citizens of Lake Madison over the last half-decade represents a nearly two-thirds increase in the town’s population. The city is located just outside of Sioux Falls to the southeast.

Mansura, Louisiana


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,599
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 543
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 42.62%
  • 2017 per capita income: $14,160

Mansura, Louisiana, is about an hour-and-a-half drive northwest from Baton Rouge, with the Paragon Casino Resort just to the north.

Ocean Park, Washington


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,398
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 545
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 44.06%
  • 2017 per capita income: $21,048

On the long thin peninsula that makes up the western side of Willapa Bay, Ocean Park is just to the south of Leadbetter Point State Park.

Preston, Maryland


  • 2012-17 average population: 864
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 395
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 62.6%
  • 2017 per capita income: $26,857

Preston is located near the Choptank River close to the Maryland-Delaware border, and it’s certainly on the rise with a 62.6% jump in its population over the last five years.

Ellijay, Georgia


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,968
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 642
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 33.79%
  • 2017 per capita income: $16,134

Seated on the edge of Chattahoochee National Forest, Ellijay, Georgia, added nearly 650 new residents from 2012 to 2017.

Finzel, Maryland


  • 2012-17 average population: 601
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 317
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 72.21%
  • 2017 per capita income: $21,657

Just off Interstate 68, you’ll find Finzel right on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Decherd, Tennessee


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,649
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 700
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 29.5%
  • 2017 per capita income: $19,005

Decherd is just to the east of Lynchburg, Tennessee — famously home to the legendary Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

Cave City, Arkansas


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,248
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 663
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 33.97%
  • 2017 per capita income: $16,211

Situated near the northern border of Arkansas, Cave City is fast-growing and about a two-hour drive from Memphis, Tennessee.

Welch, West Virginia


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,916
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 712
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 28.42%
  • 2017 per capita income: $12,886

West of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Welch got 712 new residents over a five-year period — good for a 28.42% jump. 

Stockport, Ohio


  • 2012-17 average population: 546
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 340
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 74.56%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,850

Sitting on the winding Muskingum River, Stockport added only 340 new residents from 2012 to 2017 — but that still translated to a nearly 75% increase in its population.

Hamilton City, California


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,917
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 651
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 38.16%
  • 2017 per capita income: $13,917

Situated snugly between the Sacramento River and the Glenn-Colusa Canal, Hamilton City is a reasonable drive from the nearby Mendocino National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Redwater, Mississippi


  • 2012-17 average population: 603
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 330
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 76.39%
  • 2017 per capita income: $14,722

Redwater is well-situated for anyone looking for plenty to do within a short drive. Jackson is a little over an hour to the southwest. The Bienville National Forest is about an hour to the south, and you should also be able to reach the Tombigbee National Forest to the north in around an hour as well.

Oak Hill, Michigan


  • 2012-17 average population: 638
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 342
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 77.03%
  • 2017 per capita income: $19,882

Located on Michigan’s Gold Coast, Oak Hill is on Manistee Lake just outside the town of Manistee — which also puts it right near Lake Michigan. Residents can enjoy a casual drive along the lake and through the gorgeous wilderness of Northern Michigan on their way to resort towns like Traverse City, Charlevoix and Mackinac Island.

Pictured: Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse

 

Porcupine, South Dakota


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,253
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 532
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 56%
  • 2017 per capita income: $6,821

This town — located just south of Badlands National Park — added 532 new people from 2012 to 2017. Notably, though, the town has the second-lowest per capita income in the study at just $6,821 — something that might be a prickly subject with the locals.

Pioche, Nevada


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,003
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 486
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 61.52%
  • 2017 per capita income: $16,166

Nevada’s not all about Las Vegas and Reno. Pioche is nearly a three-hour drive north from Sin City and sits just off Route 93.

White Mills, Pennsylvania


  • 2012-17 average population: 715
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 389
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 73.26%
  • 2017 per capita income: $24,650

About 45 minutes east of Scranton, White Mills is home to the Dorflinger Factory Museum and Dorflinger Glass Museum — and 389 new residents who moved there between 2012 and 2017.

Crow Agency, Montana


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,866
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 651
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 44.38%
  • 2017 per capita income: $12,325

Crow Agency is the closest town to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and sits just to the east of the Bighorn River.

Vandalia, Illinois


  • 2012-17 average population: 6,491
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 917
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 15.04%
  • 2017 per capita income: $16,854

This would not be the Georgia burg that’s internationally famous for its onions (that’s Vidalia), but Vandalia has plenty of non-allium things going for it that could explain the recent influx of new residents. Like it’s own municipal airport, nearby Vandalia Lake and its location — just an hour’s drive to St. Louis, replete with delicious barbecue, Cardinals baseball games and the Gateway Arch.

Pablo, Montana


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,457
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 733
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 36.85%
  • 2017 per capita income: $10,277

Kitty-corner to the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge and the Pablo Reservoir, this Montana town grew by 36.85% from 2012 to 2017.

Fraser, Colorado


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,230
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 595
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 54.44%
  • 2017 per capita income: $25,020

The drive from Boulder to Fraser should take you a little under two hours, but a lot of that is due to the fact that you have to route around the craggy peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Dahlonega, Georgia


  • 2012-17 average population: 5,947
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 918
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 16.75%
  • 2017 per capita income: $19,817

Sitting south of the Chattahoochee National Forest and north of Lake Lanier, Dahlonega is actually less than an hour’s drive from Ellijay — another of the fastest-growing towns featured in this study.

New Eucha, Oklahoma


  • 2012-17 average population: 544
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 309
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 89.05%
  • 2017 per capita income: $18,666

New Eucha — seated north of Lake Eucha and west of Lake Eucha Park — appears to be a far sight better than Old Eucha, given that it boosted its population by just under 90% over the five-year period in question.

Folkston, Georgia


  • 2012-17 average population: 4,958
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 887
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 21.22%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,736

Folkston is inland from Cumberland Island on the Atlantic coast and east of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Folks just seem to love the place.

Pearsall, Texas


  • 2012-17 average population: 9,586
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 984
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 10.78%
  • 2017 per capita income: $16,666

Pearsall is roughly an hour’s drive southwest of San Antonio, so residents won’t have to travel too far to enjoy the Riverwalk almost any night of the week. Perhaps that’s why nearly 1,000 people moved there during the period between 2012 and 2017.

Schurz, Nevada


  • 2012-17 average population: 802
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 450
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 75.25%
  • 2017 per capita income: $12,735

Schurz is roughly an hour and a half southwest of Reno, and east of Carson City, Lake Tahoe and the Eldorado National Forest.

Altha, Florida


  • 2012-17 average population: 621
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 403
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 96.64%
  • 2017 per capita income: $13,730

This panhandle town is located southwest of Lake Seminole and northwest of the Apalachicola National Forest. The town essentially doubled in size from 2012 to 2017, adding 403 new residents during that period.

Fairfield, Oklahoma


  • 2012-17 average population: 511
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 339
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 110.78%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,671

Located about an hour and 45 minutes east of Tulsa, Fairfield is right on the border with Arkansas. And the town more than doubled in size during the period examined in the study, with the population spiking by 110.78%.

Pictured: Downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tannersville, New York


  • 2012-17 average population: 679
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 468
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 97.1%
  • 2017 per capita income: $24,555

Tannersville has a lot of options for recreation nearby. Whether it’s any of the forests to the east, south and north or the ski slopes on nearby Hunter Mountain, residents should be able to keep busy. And if that leads to a nap on the shores of Lake Rip Van Winkle — located within the town’s borders — all the better. Just make sure you set an alarm.

Pictured: Hunter Mountain ski resort

Sidney, Montana


  • 2012-17 average population: 5,995
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 1,131
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 21.1%
  • 2017 per capita income: $32,151

Sidney is on the Yellowstone River near the border with North Dakota, and it’s been on the rise. The town added over 1,000 people from 2012 to 2017.

Fairfield, Maine


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,842
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 974
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 43.35%
  • 2017 per capita income: $18,157

Situated on the banks of the Kennebec River southwest of Bangor, Fairfield is relatively close to the Atlantic coast and a short drive from Mount Desert Island — home to the stunning Acadia National Park.

Hosford, Florida


  • 2012-17 average population: 655
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 417
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 109.16%
  • 2017 per capita income: $23,903

West of Tallahassee, Hosford is only separated from the Gulf Coast by the Apalachicola National Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest.

Wallace, California


  • 2012-17 average population: 724
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 507
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 102.42%
  • 2017 per capita income: $41,230

Near to Stockton and Lodi, Wallace directly abuts the Camanche Reservoir. And from 2012 to 2017, it more than doubled its population with some 507 new residents.

Pictured: Wallace Creek

Mackinac Island, Michigan


  • 2012-17 average population: 639
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 453
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 114.39%
  • 2017 per capita income: $27,472

The island is one of Michigan’s true gems. Motor vehicles are banned — transportation consists mainly of bicycles and horse-drawn carriages — and you can enjoy incredible views of the Mackinac Bridge or visit the Fort Mackinac historical site, among other things.

Green Acres, North Dakota


  • 2012-17 average population: 595
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 391
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 125.72%
  • 2017 per capita income: $6,694

Green Acres was named one of the top 10 small cities in North Dakota. Seated close to the border with Canada, you’re not far from Devils Lake and the Turtle Mountain Provincial Park directly across the border. So, yes, Green Acres is in fact the place to be.

Pictured: Devils Lake

North Pearsall, Texas


  • 2012-17 average population: 912
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 713
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 108.19%
  • 2017 per capita income: $15,664

The fact that both Pearsall and North Pearsall — which, as the name indicates, is just north of Pearsall — made this list should indicate there’s a lot of interest in living far enough outside San Antonio to avoid city life. But you’ll at least be close enough that you can drive to it when you feel like a night on the town.

Pictured: San Antonio, Texas

Pastoria, Virginia


  • 2012-17 average population: 1,007
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 736
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 126.46%
  • 2017 per capita income: $11,712

Located on the finger of land that forms the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay, Pastoria is near the Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland.

Pictured: Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Flintville, Tennessee


  • 2012-17 average population: 529
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 445
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 161.82%
  • 2017 per capita income: $14,447

Located just north of the border with Alabama, this Tennessee town is a short drive to Tims Ford State Park. And from 2012 to 2017 it had a whopping 161.82% increase in its population.

Midpines, California


  • 2012-17 average population: 874
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 817
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 134.6%
  • 2017 per capita income: $28,957

If jaw-droppingly breathtaking scenery is your jam, Midpines might be your best option of the towns listed here. Sitting just inside the border of Yosemite National Park, you’re a very short drive from the stunning Yosemite Valley, El Capitan and Half Dome.

Mora, New Mexico


  • 2012-17 average population: 704
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 620
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 292.45%
  • 2017 per capita income: $8,826

This one should be called “Mora People” as it has the largest percent increase of any town on this list. The New Mexico burg — located just to the east of Carson National Forest and south of Taos Ski Valley — nearly quadrupled in size from 2012 to 2017, with the population jumping over 292%.

Conway, New Hampshire


  • 2012-17 average population: 2,333
  • Total population increase between 2012-17: 2,466
  • Percentage increase in population between 2012-17: 195.56%
  • 2017 per capita income: $26,725

Conway saw the second-largest percentage increase over the period in question, essentially tripling in size. It also had the largest total increase by a long shot — with the 2,466 new residents more than doubling the second-highest figure. So, whether it’s the town’s proximity to Portland, Maine, or the Crawford Notch State Park that it directly abuts, there’s clearly something motivating people to take up residence here.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed all 50 states to discover the fastest-growing towns in rural America. Using the guidelines laid out by the United States Health Resources and Services Administration, GOBankingRates defined a rural town as a place with a population of 500-50,000 people and located within a county that is not included in a metro area. Statistical Atlas was used to identify these counties. With these parameters in mind, GOBankingRates found each rural town’s (1) population change from 2012-2017 and (2) the percentage increase in population from 2012-2017 using the United States Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. These two factors were scored and combined with the lower score being better to determine the final rankings. GOBankingRates also found each rural town’s 2017 per capita income as sourced from the United States Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. All data compiled on Aug. 19-20, 2019.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Fastest-Growing Towns in Rural America