HIGHGATE – Members of the community gathered on Tuesday evening to discuss with experts what they want to see in the future of Highgate.
The forum was a collaboration between the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), the City of Highgate, and other Vermont organizations, and aimed to gather input on avenues for Highgate and its growth trajectory. This growth doesn’t just mean population – growth means betterment, and on Tuesday, members of the Highgate community were all in attendance.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first step in a three-month process called “Highgate Reaching New Heights.” The goal of the process is to give community members a neutral and facilitated structure to consider issues, decide priorities and develop action plans for the city’s future, according to an initiative brochure.
They were farmers, teachers, soldiers and traders, young and old and all members of the Highgate community in one form or another. Everyone from Missisquoi Valley School District Superintendent Julie Regimbal to City Board Chair Sharon Bousquet were on hand to welcome community members and offer their thoughts and ears, and to discuss their views on what they saw as potential benefits for the future of their community.
The Phoenix House of Berkshire provided a delicious spread for a free community dinner, and the Missisquoi Valley Union Jazz Band serenaded the evening. These comforts were nice additions to what VCRD chief executive Brian Lowe said was community boldness and courage to change for the better.
Healthy and safe community
The evening was divided into four forums: two took place at Highgate Primary School and two at the Highgate Sports Arena. The first forum held at the school focused on what it means to have a healthy and safe community in Highgate.
Many members mentioned personal concerns about vandalism, community disturbances and the availability of medical care. Highgate, like many surrounding towns, is a rapidly aging community, and the need for more families and community involvement was top of mind for attendees.
“I’m having trouble logging in (here),” said resident Therese Tucker. “I used to live in St. Albans before, and I felt a lot more connected.”
Many people who attended the conference lived in the city, but even more were members of the surrounding communities. Topics such as addiction, mental health and health support, and community support were frequently mentioned at various workshops.
Residents of Highgate unanimously agreed: wellness and healing are a priority, especially now. Highgate volunteer firefighter Liza Comisky insisted more supports are needed, along with more volunteer opportunities.
Other community members expressed concern about substance use in the community.
“We find needles around our walking paths,” Bousquet said. “Our children walk there.”
Comisky said she should help educate members of the Girls on the Run afterschool program to recognize what a needle is and not touch it.
“It’s sad that we have to (tell them that),” Comisky said.
Other forums addressed youth, education and vocational training; local recreation, tourism and quality of life; and economic development and agricultural viability and infrastructure. The next step in the process is a community-wide discussion to be held on April 26. Learn more here: https://sites.google.com/vtrural.org/highgate