As we begin the New Year my hope is that the world moves forward in a more positive direction with more understanding and a greater tolerance of our differences; positively impacts and lessens the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots; provides more support for the downtrodden, oppressed, and stigmatized among us; lifts up, supports, encourages and educates our youth for a world that changes more rapidly each year; and finds a way to turn these items into a more peaceful existence for everyone. While these are more global desires, they also ring true for our hilltown communities. But for us, I’d add my hopes that the community members working on economic development, ubiquitous broadband, transportation, general infrastructure and financial improvements see much progress as a reward for their hard work and dedication in trying to make our towns sustainable, successful, and yet remain the bucolic jewel that they have been. On an educational level, I hope that the collaboration and increased open discussions between the school committee and our town officials leads to a budget that everyone can support and that helps to move the district and our students forward in a positive manner.
Despite the many challenges faced by our towns and schools, it is still evident that there are many great things happening throughout our district and that we enjoy a certain quality of life that is not found everywhere. From the volunteers who staff our fire departments to the hardworking crews who maintain our highways; from the folks who give of their time and expertise to serve as public officials to those that help manage the many other entities that we often take for granted in our towns; and from the school staff who go above and beyond to meet student needs to the many school volunteers that make so much possible for our students: even with minimal budgets our towns are filled with people who care about our community as a whole. When one considers the limited resources that we’re all faced with, the extensive networks of roads, the part-time and volunteer basis of much of our town entities, and the difficulties we all face dealing with governmental oversight designed for our urban counterparts, it’s actually amazing that we all succeed as well as we do.
Of course living in a smaller, more rural, and less densely populated area has other benefits including less traffic, more picturesque scenery, the regular sighting of wildlife, the ability to get out into nature by simply walking out of your backdoor, and the ‘good Samaritan’ aspects of knowing so many neighbors and others in our communities. Many choose to live in this area for these reasons while others would certainly like to but can’t due to the lack of economic opportunities, the length of their commute, or an inability to work from home due to the lack of consistent broadband.
Many of our adult children who face these difficulties are forced to leave the area (which is similar across much of Western Massachusetts) to be able to find employment and opportunity. We are essentially in a race to acquire those amenities and opportunities that would enable more people to live in the hilltowns before we lose so much population that our area becomes unsustainable. This area has certainly gone through these cycles before as evident by the populations’ ebb and flow over the last 200 (+) years and the growth and loss of many different industries and economic opportunities over this same time. Yet our towns have survived these changes and I expect that we will once again find hope, opportunities, and success in the future.