The communities of Cut Bank, Shelby, and Valier have been selected to participate in the 2021 Reimagining Rural Virtual Gathering that is designed to bring some fresh ideas about how to create a vibrant future for rural communities across Montana. 

It has been a challenging year and organizers hope to help local volunteers and leaders reset and reimagine a bright future for their community by bringing them together to hear some positive research and success stories about rural communities.

The sessions are set for Sept. 13, Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. Each session will be held from 6-8 p.m. Community members interested in joining this great statewide discussion can participate by gathering at the following locations in their respective communities:

Cut Bank – Logan Health EMS Conference Room, 1102 E. Main St.

Shelby – Comfort Inn Conference Room, 455 McKinley Ave.

Valier - Valier Public Library, 400 Teton Ave.

The Reimagining Rural Virtual Gathering was created for local volunteers and leaders who are passionate about creating vibrant, robust rural places, growing local capacity, learning about new ideas, connecting with others and leading local change. 

“We are excited to bring these great stories about successful, vibrant rural communities to small towns across the state,” said Tara Mastel, Community Development Program Leader for Montana State University Extension.  “We will share new research about why people are moving to rural Montana communities as well as inspiring and positive stories of successful rural community projects. We hope it helps folks get excited about what is possible for their small town.”

Reimagining Rural Virtual Gathering includes three statewide sessions, broadcast virtually to groups of local leaders gathered in-person in rural communities across the state. 

Sessions begin with talks by rural experts or local leaders of successful rural community projects.  Following the talks, people gathered locally will have the chance to discuss the ideas shared with the help of a local, trained facilitator. 

The first night speaker, Ben Winchester of the University of Minnesota Extension, will share research on the rural “brain gain,” including new research by MSU Extension about who is moving to rural Montana communities and why.

Glacier County Extension Agent, Kari Lewis, shared some thoughts about the event. “I am particularly excited to be offering this locally as I believe it is incredibly relevant to our local community. I’m especially interested to hear Ben Winchester’s talk on, ‘Rewriting the Rural Narrative’ as he will have Montana data to share on how our counties are changing and will address if rural America is truly dying, or just changing.” 

The second night includes community volunteers from Montana towns who have created great local projects such as a summer concert series, a community-wide tourism and branding strategy and a non-profit childcare center using an abandoned school. 

The final session will feature members of the Winnett community who have brought about a remarkable revitalization of their community which included a beef to schools program, a new community center and a housing project. 

“I hope through this program we can gain new ideas to spark our community, welcome newcomers in, and help invite folks to be a part of our community,” continued Lewis. 

“Montana has the second highest demand for leadership in the US, with 794 new leaders needed annually to serve in government and non-profits. For the long term success of our local communities, it’s critical that we have these conversations to ‘Reimagine Rural,’ and I’m hopeful that this may be the start of developing more leaders in our community to serve in those positions.”

Reimagining Rural is made possible through support from MSU Extension, the Burton K. Wheeler Center, Montana Community Foundation, First Interstate Bank Foundation and the WE and OP Edwards Foundation.

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