Reimagining Rural with colorful thought bubble filled with rural related icon images

Our small towns are the heart of Montana. Reimagining Rural brings rural community members together to hear positive and inspiring stories of thriving small towns and helps them take action to create a more vibrant future for their town.

Past participants include: Anaconda, Arlee, Baker, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Chinook, Columbus, Conrad, Cut Bank, Daniels County (Scobey), Ekalaka (Carter County), Forsyth, Ft. Belknap, Glendive, Harlowton, Havre, Hays, Hysham, Joliet, Laurel, Lewistown, Livingston, Malta, Manhattan, Miles City, Plevna, Poplar, Powder River County, Powell County, Roundup & Winnett, Seeley Lake, Sidney, St. Regis (Mineral County), Toole County, Thompson Falls, Townsend, Valier, White Sulphur Springs, and Worden/Ballantine.

Dates for Reimagining Rural 2022 are September 8, September 22, and October 6.

Applications will be released in late June and will be due in early August. 

Reimagining Rural participating communities in Montana.

Each community hosted an in-person gathering for local volunteers and leaders to watch the speakers via Zoom.  Following the speakers, each community had their own local discussion about the ideas they heard from the speaker and how they might apply locally. 

Dates and Speakers for 2021:

  • September 13, 2021.  Rewriting the Rural Narrative. Reframe your view of rural with "Brain Gain" author Ben Winchester.  View the recording of the September 13th talk here: .
  • September 27, 2021.  We did it and you can too! Short stories of successful projects from rural Montana community leaders that made things happen.  View the recording of the Sept 27th session here:

  • October 4, 2021.  Winning in Winnett MT. Hear about how residents in Winnett MT, population 182, went from possible dissolution of their county to a robust Beef to Schools program, new housing and construction of a new community center.  View the recording of this session here: .


Each community hosted an in-person gathering for local volunteers and leaders to watch the speakers via Zoom.  Following the speakers, each community had their own local discussion about the ideas they heard from the speaker and how they might apply locally. 

Wrap-up of the Fall 2020 Virtual Gathering

In an effort to advance the conversation about a vibrant future for rural Montana, MSU Extension partnered with Montana Community Foundation, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Burton K. Wheeler Center to create the Reimagining Rural Virtual Gathering Program.

 Program Recordings

Colorful word cloud titled "What drew newcomers to your community"

Program Description

Participating communities gathered small groups together to hear speakers talk about key issues for rural communities.  Following the speaker, participants took part in a discussion with their local community members, led by a trained facilitator.  Communities were asked to work on one simple strategy they can start on immediately.


Participating Communities

Communities completed a very brief application process demonstrating that they have considered including a broad spectrum of community groups in promoting and participating in the program.  We had 24 communities in the Fall 2020 program including the following:

Joliet, Powder River County, Seeley Lake, Livingston, Forsyth, Shelby, Ekalaka, Roundup, Harlowton, Malta, Mineral County, Columbus, Deer Lodge, Townsend, Conrad, Glendive, Baker, Laurel, Lewistown, Thompson Falls, Ft. Belknap, Poplar, Havre, Anaconda and Chinook

Participation dropped off in some communities due to COVID-19 but it increased in others. 


Fall 2019 In-Person Event Summary

The Reimagining Rural Planning team hosted an in-person event in Harlowton attended by over 100 people in September 2019 to learn about and discuss rural issues with other statewide counterparts.  The goal was to raise awareness about rural and build relationships among organizations that have a stake in the success of rural communities. 

The Reimagining Rural event had a significant positive impact on the attendees and the audience as indicated by the positive evaluations and the interest in sharing the message of the keynote speaker, Ben Winchester, from the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.  Winchester’s “Brain Gain” and positive message about rural life was so relevant that three different organizations invited him to give the keynote address at three separate events in Montana during the spring of 2020.


Bringing Reimagining Rural to Rural

Following the success of the in-person event, the Reimagining Rural planning committee was awarded an outreach grant by Montana State University to recreate the in-person event remotely in 20 rural communities across Montana.  The goal of the virtual event was to bring the important message shared by Winchester directly to groups in rural communities so they can learn new ideas and gain inspiration to take positive action in their communities.  The resulting program was initially planned for the spring of 2020 but was rescheduled for Fall 2020.


Rescheduled and Expanded Thanks to Additional Partners

Thanks to a partnership with The Burton K. Wheeler Center  and additional support from the Montana Community Foundation, we were able to increase the number of communities participating in the fall 2020 program and we were able to expand the program to three days.