MSU Extension’s Reimagining Rural program challenges small towns to shape their future
From MSU News Service
BOZEMAN — Twenty-four communities across the state participated last year in a Montana State University Extension program that focuses on providing Montana’s small towns with opportunities to shape their future.
MSU Extension’s Reimagining Rural program recognizes that Montana’s small towns are facing challenges of shifting demographics and evolving economies that can make it more difficult for rural communities to maintain community vitality, according to Tara Mastel, MSU Extension’s community development program leader.
“The Reimagining Rural program focuses on providing Montana’s small towns with opportunities to adjust their community’s narrative by addressing how they view, approach and ultimately create solutions to these challenges,” Mastel said.
The program included virtual community gatherings where town leaders interacted with rural advocates and experts.
“The sessions helped show the potential of reviving rural Montana,” Mastel said. “As a participant commented, rural America is not dying. It is changing, and much of the perceived narrative regarding the decay of our rural areas is simply wrong.”
At the conclusion of the program, the Montana Community Foundation, a program partner, awarded $32,000 in grants to the communities to support projects that were identified or discussed during the series. The grants will fund a variety of initiatives, including training for local leaders; local arts development; community-sponsored activities for all ages that are designed to provide inclusion for newcomers in small towns – including a permanent, covered location for a farmer’s market; a history trail project; tourism promotion of rural areas; community beautification efforts; interpretive signs; and a community visitor kiosk.
“The partners in Reimagining Rural came together based on common experience for the need to build capacity among local leaders in rural communities,” Mastel said. “We have great resources in Montana, but if there is not capacity at the local level, communities are not able to take advantage of all the resources that exist. The Reimagining Rural program energized local leaders and helped them rethink what is possible for their communities.”
In addition to MSU Extension and the Montana Community Foundation, partners who contributed to the program included First Interstate Bank Foundation, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Burton K. Wheeler Center at MSU. •