This fall, community members will have the opportunity to put their heads together and brainstorm ideas for Milton’s future.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development will visit Milton beginning in October to facilitate a series of gatherings that will invite residents to set common goals and visions. VCRD provides these sessions and resources at no cost.
In the last year, VCRD has helped residents in Barre, Bradford and Richford to dream up the future of their communities.
While serving in the Vermont legislature, Town Manager Don Turner became aware of the work VCRD is doing around Vermont. In 2019, he reached out to the group about visiting Milton.
“I was looking for a way to get more community members involved in our community and its future,” Turner stated in a Sept. 9 email to the Independent. “As a community leader, I want to ensure that we have input from as many people as possible.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, VCRD’s visit to Milton was delayed, but is now picking up steam.
VCRD executive director Paul Costello and community policy manager Jenna Koloski met with the Milton Selectboard Sept. 7 to share a timeline and some logistics.
“We believe in the power of citizens,” Costello said. “We believe when they come together in a democratic process they describe what they stand for, they describe what they care about for the future.”
The proposed timeline
By Oct. 13, a committee of local representatives, ranging from town officials to business owners and students, will be assembled. This committee will work with staff from VCRD to compile a list of topics to be discussed at later session.s
“This smaller committee meeting will help us frame what the process looks like in Milton,” Koloski said.
In November, a large community kick-off event and dinner will be held at a location to be determined.
“Think of this as a big, community-wide brainstorming session,” Koloski said.
Community members will be asked to share their thoughts on the topics identified by the steering committee, as well as ideas for actionable ways to make change in those areas.
Koloski said the goal is not to build a list of tasks for the Selectboard to take on, or a list of problems for Turner to fix. Instead, its asking the community what they can do to make Milton a better place to live.
“What do you as community members want to stand up for, want to line up behind, want to work on?” Koloski asked rhetorically.
VCRD will bring experts and resources along to the kick-off event in order to help lead discussions and answer questions.
In December, the community will be invited to come together again to look at the ideas that were brainstormed the month prior and to vote on priorities.
“We put all of the ideas up on the wall and give everyone a chance to walk through and discuss what’s most actionable, what’s most impactful today,” Koloski siad.
Three to five priority areas will be determined through a voting process, and then sign up sheets will be distributed, giving community members the chance to join task forces that will delve deeper into those priorities.
Those task forces will meet for the first time in January and will be helped along by VCRD facilitators and industry experts. The goal of these groups will be to make an action plan.
For example, Koloski said, if Milton decides it wants to work on outdoor recreation, a task force would link up with experts in that space to determine what steps are needed to enhance outdoor recreation in town.
At the end of the process, VCRD will gather all of the input, ideas and action plans together into a report that can be used as a sort of blueprint for Milton’s future.
Involving the next generation
Costello already thinks Milton has many assets — from Lake Champlain and Lake Arrowhead to the mountains and woods.
“And yet,” he said, “people move to a town like this, and they might not feel that invited to be that engaged. But this process says, ‘everybody’s got a role to play.’"
Turner stated he is hoping VCRD’s community visit inspires more residents to join Town boards and commissions. This is an opportunity, he thinks, to get younger, more varied people involved.
“Most of our volunteers are people who have been here a long time,” Turner said. “We need some new input. We are talking about inclusivity and welcoming people. We need to figure out how to get them in the room.”