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Blackstone River Corridor closer to national park status

October 14, 2011

PROVIDENCE – All four U.S. Senators from Rhode Island and Massachusetts – including Republican freshman Scott Brown – have introduced legislation that would create the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
“It’s a great day,” enthused Robert Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, after hearing the news. “We thought something was probably going to be moving sooner than later, but we didn’t think it would be this soon. We’re just happy the timing worked out in our favor.”
The move comes as the same area, which follows the Blackstone River from Slater Mill in Pawtucket to its source in Worcester, Mass., and is now called a “heritage corridor” faces an end to its federal funding. Federal funding for the corridor had been expected to end this month, but Sen. Jack Reed, the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, which oversees the National Park Service, arranged for one additional year of funding.
Earlier this year, the National Park Service issued a Special Resource Study (SRS) that concluded a national park is the “preferred alternative” for the corridor because of its “historic and cultural” value to the region.
The study estimated that the new Blackstone Valley national historical park would over time include expenditures of $6.1 million for construction and rehabilitation of facilities, research, planning, and development of exhibits. The park would have an estimated $3.5 million annual operating cost.
That was followed up by a visit to the Visitor’s Center off the corridor’s bike path by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar who boosted the spirits of supporters of the park plan by saying, “my absolute instincts are that it does make sense to have a second national park here in Rhode Island, and I think it is about time.”
Billington told The Times Thursday that a “Rally for the Valley” is scheduled Nov. 10 at the Heritage Corridor Commission headquarters at 1 Depot Square in downtown Woonsocket, in part a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the corridor and as a kickoff to the lobbying effort for the national park.
“Our future is looming,” Billington said, “it is articulated in a piece of federal legislation. At 6 p.m. at the depot we are planning to basically pack the house with people who have been our supporters and that we have worked with for the past 25 years and thank them and salute them and we will lay out the game plan” for the national park.
“We’re going to have an old-time rally,” he said. “We’re going to raise a ruckus.”
Next Tuesday (Nov. 18) Billington said, there will be a “tourism lab” featuring two park rangers at the Visitor’s Center at 175 Main St. in Pawtucket to discuss how “gateway communities” in the immediate vicinity of national parks work with them as neighbors.
A joint release issued by the four senators on Thursday said, “As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, this area is a national treasure and includes thousands of acres of beautiful, undeveloped land, and waterways that are home to diverse wildlife. The new multi-site park would encompass land in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the Blackstone River and its tributaries; the Blackstone Canal; the non-contiguous nationally significant historic districts of Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket; the villages of Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland) Rhode Island; and Whitinsville and Hopedale in Massachusetts.
"This new national park would provide opportunities for work, opportunities for recreation, and it will be a way to forever memorialize the history of this unique national treasure," said Reed. “Creating a national historical park within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor could help boost tourism and economic development in the region and preserve and protect these valuable natural and cultural resources for future generations of Americans."
"The Blackstone River Valley is the historic cradle of Rhode Island - and American - manufacturing, and a beautiful resource for our state," added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. "Securing a National Park designation for the area will create jobs now and ensure that this historic corridor is preserved for future generations."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said, "The Blackstone River Valley is the place where our Industrial Revolution was born and this piece of our history is at the center of our economic future. Creating this new national park will attract tourism from across the country. It's been a long time coming and a lot of pushing to get here, but we always knew, from the moment the Park was first proposed, how important this very special area is for Massachusetts and Rhode Island."
"The Blackstone River Valley played an important role in the industrial history of Massachusetts," Brown noted. "I'm proud to cosponsor this legislation to create this national park and provide new economic development opportunities for our region."
If approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park likely would be run collaboratively through a special partnership that would allow the National Park Service to manage and operate the facilities and provide educational services in the park in partnership with regional and local preservation groups who would lead the efforts to preserve the surrounding rural and agriculture landscape within the existing corridor.
Designated as a National Heritage Corridor in 1986 by Congress, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor links twenty-four communities along the Blackstone River from Providence, Rhode Island to Worcester, Mass.
Rhode Island’s other national park site is the Roger Williams National Memorial, a small patch of grass and trees near downtown Providence with a visitors’ center.


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