By Mike Frett, as seen in the St. Albans Messenger:

MONTGOMERY – A community initiative dubbed Montgomery Thrives entered a new phase this Thursday as residents organized into specialized committees and drafted the first steps of their plans that, if realized, could lead to substantial developments for the small mountain town.

In a series of meetings facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), Montgomery residents selected three priorities for development – pedestrian and road infrastructure, the extension of cellular and broadband services, and municipal wastewater infrastructure – and filed into three corresponding committees that could address those projects.

Thursday’s meeting served as the culmination of an early, VCRD-led stage of Montgomery Thrives. Committees met for the first time, and VCRD connected committees to relevant regional and state officials and experts that could serve as contacts for the committees as they begin pressing forward on their individual projects.

The meeting also served as a denouement for Montgomery Thrives’ visioning process, as the VCRD asked Montgomery residents to fill out surveys identifying their aspirations for the town’s future. Those surveys would be compiled by VCRD for a formal “action plan” to be presented to the town later this month.

While some options might have been loftier – a suggested “community pot garden” became a favorite reference that night despite being actively discouraged by at least one state-affiliated official – most were concrete proposals for the town’s infrastructure and culture, a fact that VCRD officials praised regularly throughout the night.

“We fall in love with every place we go… but there’s something special here,” said VCRD’s Paul Costello. “We do these processes all over the place, and lots of places are over-settled communities that want more activities… but your priorities are different: They’re the sort of fundamental bones of a town.”

Montgomery’s selectboard chair, Charlie Hancock, seconded the sentiment, praising the crowd that gathered in the Montgomery Elementary School’s gymnasium for choosing projects “that will last for decades.”

“The little kids who play basketball here – they’re the ones who will benefit from this,” Hancock said.

As residents organized into respective committees, Costello warned the audience to not spend too much time hung up on the lofty timelines and price tags that would likely accompany their prioritized projects and instead focus on what early steps those committees could take to begin building toward their goals.

“Some of these may cost money, but that’s not the issue here tonight,” Costello said.

The three committees formed from Montgomery Thrives will serve as quasi-official town committees charged with pursuing their respective development goal for the coming years. Each group already has a designated chairperson and a tentative meeting schedule.

Each group also already has an inaugural meeting scheduled for December.