Conway looks to create Festival of the Hills town committee ahead of 60th event

Children throw candy from a tractor during the parade for Conway’s 59th Festival of the Hills in October 2023.

Children throw candy from a tractor during the parade for Conway’s 59th Festival of the Hills in October 2023. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Greenfield resident Renn Smith, who won the women’s division, tosses a cast iron skillet during Conway’s 59th Festival of the Hills in October 2023.

Greenfield resident Renn Smith, who won the women’s division, tosses a cast iron skillet during Conway’s 59th Festival of the Hills in October 2023. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-09-2024 9:46 AM

Modified: 02-09-2024 9:58 AM


CONWAY — More than seven months out from the 60th edition of the Festival of the Hills, the town and the festival’s organizing committee have started the formal process to turn the group into an official town committee.

An affirmative Selectboard vote this week began a process that could add the Festival of the Hills Committee to Conway’s official roster of boards. The Selectboard and festival organizers say doing so would help ensure the town’s signature event, which is a 501(c)(3)-designated nonprofit, can be sustained long into the future by cutting down on expenses and providing a few new ways to raise money.

“Because they are a nonprofit, they’re no longer entitled to free police services and ambulances and all that; once they’re a town committee, the town doesn’t charge the town,” said Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor, adding that liability insurance costs would also fall under the town. “The whole purpose is to raise scholarship money and even if the revenue remains the same, they can raise more money. … I think this positions the festival for a long-term existence and the ability to weather a dry spell or two.”

A Town Meeting vote in the spring would be needed to approve the transition. If approved, the committee would operate under the state’s city and town scholarship fund regulations laid out in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 60, Section 3C.

Alongside the financial benefits, Sue MacDonald, who co-chaired the 2023 event with Pixie Holbrook, said the Festival of the Hills Committee is in a period of transition, as they are looking for new people to take the lead. With more than 120 volunteers needed to run the festival, its status as a town committee would also mean notices can be sent out to residents with their tax bills and other similar communications from Town Hall.

“We are in the process of transitioning the Festival of the Hills board of directors and we feel this is an ideal time to transition back to the town,” MacDonald said.

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While this fall’s event will be the 60th edition, the Festival of the Hills began in 1962. The event took a few years off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival serves as a fundraiser for scholarships for Conway’s high school seniors and has raised more than $155,000 for more than 200 students throughout its history.

“The Festival of the Hills is an ambassador for the town and we have heard from many newer town residents that it was one of the draws to moving here. We have also heard that many residents didn’t realize we were no longer a town-run event,” MacDonald explained. “We hope that as a town entity, the festival will continue to be a treasured tradition for many generations to come.”

Kantor said the Festival of the Hills is a community highlight each year, as it provides a chance for neighbors to catch up, cook food for each other and participate in some “silly” events, such as the skillet toss and wood chopping activities.

“Everybody ends up volunteering and going and it’s just a really neat thing,” Kantor said. “It’s just unique in its non-commercialism and its community feel. … It’s our chance to have a party for us that everyone else is invited to.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.