Blackstone supporters rally for national park
By Susan Spencer
June 2, 2012 ... State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, told a crowd gathered at River Bend Farm visitor center last evening that it was now the third time in roughly 75 years that the Blackstone River had been proposed as a national park, and he hoped this time would be the charm for getting it done.
Legislation that would create the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — Senate bill 1708 and House bill 3191 — awaits action, and supporters held a “Rally for the Valley” to send out the call that Washington needed to hear from constituents about the importance of permanently preserving the region known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.
The proposed national park would include seven targeted areas, including Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District, Pawtucket, R.I.; Slatersville Historic District, North Smithfield, R.I.; Ashton Historic District, Cumberland, R.I.; Whitinsville Historic District, Northbridge; Hopedale Historic District; the Blackstone River and its tributaries; and the Blackstone Canal. Other areas in the Blackstone Valley region could receive technical assistance as partners.
“This is something that ought to be an easy lift, no matter how far left or right you are,” Mr. Moore said. The historical preservation component of a national park would appeal to conservatives, while environmentalists would appreciate support for the area's natural resources.
Speaking to the audience via a prepared video, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, said, “Creating a national park would direct important resources to this area, and I believe it would create jobs.”
U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, also speaking via video, said, “We're actually closer than ever to a bipartisan success.”
Donna Williams, chairman of the nonprofit Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Inc. and of the National Heritage Corridor Commission, urged the audience to contact their “Congressionals” by email to support the national park legislation.
“They all are ardent supporters of the Blackstone National Historical Park,” Ms. Williams said. “But they need to know why the national park is important to you.”
State Rep. Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge, echoed the importance of contacting elected officials in Washington. He said he was told by a member of Congress, “ 'If I get one email on a bill, I'll pull out a synopsis of the bill and read it.' If he gets 10, he reads the entire bill.”
While one purpose of the Rally for the Valley was to stimulate political action, another purpose was to introduce visitors to the recreation, history and natural resources available at River Bend Farm and Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park.
Michael D. Cove of Uxbridge and his son, Finnegan, 4, were out for a bike ride along the canal towpath.
“We're here to show our support,” Mr. Cove said. “I'm out here riding my bike three or four days a week. I'm looking forward to the completion of the (Blackstone River) bike path. The more people that know about it, the better.”
Although she hadn't known about the rally, Catrina Scott of Mendon stopped by with her four young children to try out a canoe on the canal, courtesy of the Rhode Island-based Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone.
“It's a nice place to go for a walk. It's a nice place to spot turtles and frogs,” she said. “And they have nice programs.”
Worcester South High Community School history teachers Jamie and Josiah Burden brought their infant daughter, Stella, to enjoy the park and to support South High students who were training to be tour guides for the wagon rides through Worcester's Canal District this summer. The students practiced their presentations about Blackstone Valley people and places to visitors riding a horse-drawn wagon provided by Waters Farm in Sutton, which circled the field between the river and the canal.
Emphasizing how people were enjoying the park, a site Uxbridge Town Manager Sean Hendricks described as “This gem that's in our backyard,” Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission Executive Director Jan Reitsma said, “This legislation is really important because it allows us to continue what's been started here.”
This story appears courtesy of the Telegram & Gazette (limited subscription required).