The Future of the Highlands is in Good Hands … Yours!

Highland Communities Initiative’s 5th Conference
Celebrates People’s Place in Protecting
Our Region’s Rural Nature

On September 12th in Ashfield, MA, friends and neighbors from across the region are invited to the Highland Communities Initiative’s (HCI) fifth biennial conference to celebrate the Highland’s rural nature and to share ideas from area residents that may hold the keys to its future.

A program of The Trustees of Reservations, HCI supports and connects the people that are working to maintain the rural character and quality of life in the 38 small towns of the Highlands.  The Highlands region lies west of the Connecticut River Valley, stretching from the Vermont to the Connecticut borders and is home to only 43,000 people and 3 stoplights. The region contains a remarkable abundance of intact natural areas, pristine river systems, historic towns, and working farms. Together with the region’s rich tradition of agriculture and forest stewardship, this landscape imparts a sense of place in seldom found in Massachusetts.

The impact that one individual can have in rural region like the Highlands is personified by Laurie Sanders, keynote speaker at this year’s conference. Host of the WFCR radio program Field Notes, Laurie helped spearhead a community effort to build a new library, convert an historic property to town offices, and preserve two acres of common space in her hometown of Westhampton, MA.

Conference participants will also be able to find inspiration, information and lively discussion in ten different workshops held throughout Ashfield center, including: 

  1. Creative Strategies for Community Involvement
  2. Funding Programs for Town Projects
  3. How Local Businesses Build Community
  4. Protecting and Enhancing Public Spaces
  5. Connecting Through Wildlife Corridors
  6. Sustainability Taking Root
  7. Better Development Bylaws
  8. Making the Farm to School Connection,
  9. Protecting Our Night Sky
  10. What Broadband Can Do For You, and When Will You Have It?


9:30 – 10:30am Plenary (Ashfield Town Hall)

  • You Just Can’t Kill a Good Idea – Laurie Sanders, WFCR’s Field Notes
  • Songs from the Great Pumpkin Roll, Jim Armenti, The Lonesome Brothers

10:45am-12:15pm Morning Sessions

  1. Grow Food Everywhere: Creative Strategies for Community Involvement

    Gardening and growing food has the potential to increase your self reliance and transform your community. Come hear how Seeds of Solidarity’s innovative neighborhood projects are growing productive relationships and local independence, and learn how you can improve your community through growing food.

  2. Show Me the Money: Funding Programs for Town Projects

    Even in these tight fiscal times, there are funds available to municipalities for a wide range of environmental, energy, recreation, historic preservation, and housing projects through state grant programs and the Community Preservation Act. Learn about the programs that are best suited to rural towns and how to effectively pursue them. This session will also be an opportunity to provide your feedback on the Commonwealth Capital scoring criteria and process.

  3. Not Just Business As Usual: How Local Businesses Build Community

    Running a successful business in the Highlands takes courage, skill, and a supportive community. Learn how three local businesses and a local currency are combining all three traits, and successfully utilizing a business model that enriches their local community as much as their bottom line.

  4. Caring for the Commons: Protecting and Enhancing Public Spaces

    Town commons play a vital role in the history and character of many communities. Learn how to identify what makes your town common special, spot risks to its integrity, and take home strategies for enhancing its historical and functional qualities. Two case studies will illustrate how local communities are coming together to protect and reclaim these important community assets.

  5. Keeping Track: Connecting Through Wildlife Corridors

    Knowing how wildlife uses and moves through the landscape is critical to protecting habitat linkages to ensure their future survival. Come hear about how Keeping Track® mobilizes and trains volunteers to understand and document these concepts, and how they use their data to connect landowners, land trusts, and the community.

1:30 – 3:00pm Afternoon Sessions

  1. Think Local, Act Local: Sustainability Taking Root

    While the world grapples with projections for peak oil and climate change, these local groups aren’t waiting for instructions about how to avert disaster. Learn about how and why they are taking the initiative, tapping local ingenuity, and providing their neighbors with the tools, skills, and relationships to build a more sustainable future.

  2. Going Green: Better Development Bylaws

    New residential development can fit in with the character of the community, use renewable energy sources, and create a lighter footprint of roads and driveways—it’s not impossible, but it needs a bylaw to guide the way. Learn about new zoning approaches that create a roadmap for better development, and how you can implement them in your community.

  3. Growing, Buying and Teaching: Making the Farm to School Connection

    It makes sense that lessons about local food and agriculture should stretch from the classroom to the lunchroom. Come hear how an innovative project is helping to make institutional purchasing connections with local farms or farm products, how an area farm is using its fields and animals as a classroom, and discuss how you can help build these farm to school connections.

  4. Lights Out! Protecting Our Night Sky
    • Peter Talmage, Dark Sky Association
  5. The Highlands night skies are one of the most special—and vulnerable—joys of rural living. This session will provide an introduction to how light pollution affects our dark skies, and some simple steps you and your town can take to ensure our stargazing stays spectacular.

  6. Done with Dial-up? What Broadband Can Do For You, and When Will You Have It?

    After political promises and public funding comes the slow but steady impact of high-speed Internet access across the Highlands. Come hear an update on the MA Broadband Initiative, learn about the new forms of online media that are transforming the way we communicate, network, and do business, and how one local resident is utilizing an online blog to bring rural families together.


Space is limited, and pre-registration is strongly encouraged. Conference schedules and registration forms are available at our website, or by calling 413.268.8219

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