Blacktone Parks Conservancy

Dedicated to the Preservation and Stewardship of Historic
Blackstone Park Conservation District and Boulevard.

We suggest wearing sturdy shoes and long pants or high socks as we may encounter mud, stairs, or poison ivy along the walk.  Families are also encouraged to bring a flashlight.  Children of all ages welcome!

At Blackstone Field across from the Narragansett Boat Club (2 River Road, Providence, RI 02906).

GPS: 41°49’58.8″N 71°22’40.9″W

 

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People To Depend On

After a busy spring and summer focusing on the woods, the Blackstone Parks Conservancy is pivoting back to the Boulevard in anticipation of the snow and ice that bedevil the center path much loved by runners and walkers. In August and September especially, the gardens needed tending; the South garden required removing weeds and bedraggled plants and installing new ones, a project made possible by a $1,500 grant from RI Senator Donna Nesselbush.

Fortunately for both parks, several volunteers, some new, stepped forward just when they were most needed. A call for help for the crabgrass-beset Trolley Shelter garden drew three experienced gardeners: Pam Lietar, Cynthia Bertozzi, and Peg McGowan.

Seasoned volunteers who have served the parks for many years, Don Cordner and Margaret Brookner, came to the rescue both in the Blackstone Park Conservation District and on the Boulevard at a time when several other volunteers of long standing were sidelined by illness. Don and Margaret were crucial to the successful completion of the spring section of the Trails Project sponsored by Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council. They are also overseeing the fall planting begun in September.

Nancy Nowak, Anna Browder, and Mary Dennis, continued to look after the Forest Health Works Project on Angell Street. In this small planting, as in the larger conservation district, the emphasis is on native plants, which, in contrast to invasive species, are an asset to the environment.

Invasive plant species continue to be a major target of Conservancy activities, and for this we also depend on volunteers. Carrie Drake and Elena Riverstone collaborated in organizing and leading volunteers from the following groups this summer: EastSide Marketplace; Moses Brown high school students; and UNIFI – a natural foods….;

Immanuel United Church of Christ; Johnson & Wales Residence Advisors. A recent individual volunteer, Sam Bell, has begun helping out as well.

If your name belongs on this list and has been overlooked, please let us know. Also, if you have a little time to help in the planning and management side of running the Conservancy, please get in touch with us at the website above. There is always room on the Boulevard, Park, and Education committees. One or two new board members willing to attend eleven brief monthly meetings would also be welcome.

Jane Peterson

On the Seekonk River

imageOn a sparkling Saturday in late September, a Save the Bay boat gave eager passengers rides up the Seekonk River for the second year running. Suzanne Paton of US Fish and Wildlife pointed out some of the river’s many fish and birds, including an osprey, a bald eagle, great blue herons, and a kingfisher. As if on cue, the fish were surfacing and gulls and cormorants were going after them.

Jointly sponsored by the Blackstone Parks conservancy, Save the Bay, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the event drew about 80 people, many of them children. It was a chance to see the river and bordering woodlands from a vantage point normally glimpsed only by rowers.

 

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Our Mushroom Trail Walk

Amanita muscaria Var. FormosaMushrooms were scarce, but people who wanted to learn about them were abundant on the August 16th Blackstone Parks Conservancy sponsored Mushroom Trail Walk. The traditional cap and stalk mushrooms’ preference for moist, dark places is well known. In a summer full of sun and little rain, they don’t produce fruit, which is the part we see and call a mushroom.

But the trail walk group was undeterred upon hearing that only two mushrooms had been seen in the entire center section of the conservation district the day before. Despite gloomy reports, we set off hoping to find some mushrooms ton which we could apply our new information on how to identify mushrooms. Due to the bright eyes and enthusiasm of the children, we were able to examine seven mushrooms in all. (By way of contrast, throughout the whole of August 2011, a bumper year for mushrooms, I photographed 44 different types of mushrooms in the same location as the one we walked this year.)

Thanks to all who attended for their interest and enthusiasm.

Elena Riverstone, BPC Volunteer

P1100380Wendy Klein’s Jazz Quintet from the Music School of the Philharmonic performed to an enthusiastic crowd of over 100 the last week in July. We hope and expect that they’ll be back next year as the site is perfect for spreading out a blanket and relaxing to good music.

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Down on River Road by the Seekonk River, children’s voices filled the air at Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) Saturday events. Above on weekdays, workmen operating heavy machinery and wielding shovels finished the long-awaited repair and upgrade of trails in record time. BPC volunteers overseeing the events below and the project above worked long hours. And that was just June in the Blackstone Park Conservation District.

In July the ever-popular Trolley Shelter concert series began. Work on the overgrown South Garden at the foot of the Boulevard started with a grant from state Senator Donna Nesselbush. It is the latest of many years of enhancements by the Boulevard Committee led by Gale Aronson.

 

Stewardship and Children

As co-stewards with the Providence Parks Department of both the semi-wild park overlooking the Seekonk and the groomed Blackstone Boulevard Park, for years the BPC has focused mainly on physical care of these historic places. Maintenance of the two parks is both challenging and absorbing because of their fragile soils and heavy use by thousands of visitors.

Winning major grants from state environmental agencies made it possible this year not only to gain a meaningful foothold in the erosion-prone Conservation District, but also to finally bring education into this volunteer organization’s mission. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be a natural fit.

The transformation began several years ago with Rhode Island Audubon Society- Providence After School Alliance classes in Blackstone Park with Nathan Bishop Middle School students taught by April Alix. The love these 12-14-year-olds showed for the park and their desire to protect it clearly demonstrated the Conservation District’s suitability as a place for children both to escape city pressures and to learn about nature–a place to play and learn at the same time.

Fortunately for the Conservancy, an early childhood specialist, Rick Richards, stepped forward in 2012 to chair the BPC’s new Education Committee and others experienced in early child development quickly joined him. They spent months mining the rich history and biology of the Park, organizing a trove of information for trail walks and for signs that could be accessed by smart phones, ever mindful of the need to train future stewards of this precious land. They reached out to people in spheres ranging from Indian lore to music to bird banding.

The committee’s months of work led to events last summer and this one that drew numbers of excited children and parents not seen in the Park for many years. The enthusiasm of the committee members is contagious.

 

Trail Upgrades and a New Entrance

While the Education Committee was establishing the Conservation District as the “GO TO place for kids,” the Park Committee and the Parks Department were shepherding to completion trail improvement plans that had been years in the making. Generous grants from Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management and its Coastal Resources Management Council along with assistance from dedicated staff members in both agencies have now produced safer and more enjoyable center-section trails and a much enhanced entrance at Parkside and Angell streets.

Judging from the comments of many visitors, some of whom had been anxious over the prospect of change, most people have enjoyed the improved trails and the native plants installed in eroded areas to help keep soil in place. It all fits our vision of Healthy Urban Green Space for All.

Jane Peterson

black crowned night heronSights like this are what keep amateur photographer Edie Thomas returning to Hockey Pond in the Blackstone Park Conservation District. Edie says she’s “addicted”.

Like many frequent visitors to Blackstone Park, Edie marvels at the expanse of nature at the edge of the city and overlooking the Seekonk River.

Local Catch

junior tufted titmouseLocal amateur photographer Edie Thomas sent this picture of a junior tufted titmouse she snapped in Blackstone Park Conservation District this June. Edie thinks it unlikely she would have managed to get so close if the bird hadn’t been young.

Winter Moths Again

As reported in this column in March, “To Spray or Not To Spray,” winter moths were expected to expand along the Seekonk River and in Blackstone Park this year, but no one knew how serious the infestation would be. Now we know—it’s serious.

In early May tiny bright green caterpillars softly plopping onto the heads and shoulders of volunteers working in the Blackstone Park Conservation District signaled a major attack on Providence trees by the winter moth. Barely a centimeter long though they can reach an inch, and no thicker than thin string, the caterpillars appeared harmless, but they were not. Perforated spring leaves in the trees above testified to their appetites.

First eating buds from the inside out, then swinging from tree to tree on long silken threads to take more bites, the caterpillars made short work of many leaves before they vanished into the next phase of their cycle as pupae in the ground. In Providence the woodlands of Blackstone Park and Neutaconkanut Hill and nearby street trees were hit hardest, probably tempting the moths with “all that food” in one place, said City Forester Doug Still. A neighbor on Paterson Street found his oak trees stripped bare. The pest was an equal opportunity destroyer, going after the normally untouchable Norway maples, the invasive trees that cause so much harm to other flora.

With few exceptions, the Boulevard was spared this year but for a weeping cherry that was defoliated. Trees in this predicament will normally send out a second set of leaves.

Nothing can be done about the moths this season, says Still, but next winter it will be possible for homeowners to spray individual trees though even the most harmless known sprays can kill bees. Spraying the woodlands however, will not be possible.

The eventual hope for woodland trees, aside from birds or the arrival of another natural predator, may be the parasitic fly cyzenis albicans, which wasfirst introduced to Rhode Island at Goddard Park in 2011 by the University of Rhode Island (URI). More flies were released in Bristol and Jamestown in 2013, and in Cumberland, Kingstown and Jamestown in 2014.

Botanist Heather Faubert, research assistant in the Department of Plant Sciences at URI, who is managing winter moth bio-control in Rhode Island, speculates that the fly, which is present in Seekonk, may eventually spread to Providence. The success of this method of control in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts without unwanted collateral damage is encouraging, but takes time.

Jane Peterson

 

DSC_1206Many people spotted snapping turtles in early June lumbering across Irving Avenue, River Road, and Angell Street enroute to the Blackstone Park Conservation District to lay their eggs. It seemed inconceivable that these awkward-looking creatures could manage to get to their destinations without human assistance. But they did.

And now the reptiles have gone back to the ponds and river whence they came. Just as the Blackstone Parks Conservancy had asked a project manager to raise the newly installed temporary snow fencing in spots for the turtles to pass easily, the surge was over. They had not only crossed roads and climbed the steep bluffs as well as the split rail fencing atop the eastern bluff, but they had also managed to get around or under the snow fencing.

photoThe turtles’ nesting aligned with the lunar cycle and coincided with the installation of temporary fencing designed to protect planting along badly worn trails. Current work in the woods is part of the Trail Upgrade Project sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to slow the rapid erosion of the Conservation District and enhance the experience of walkers. Work done so far has dramatically upgraded the trails. And the plants, if they are allowed to flourish, will help keep the trails in decent shape. Visitors are urged to stay on the trails.

By next spring the Conservancy will have learned much more about the snapping turtles living in York and Hockey ponds and the Seekonk River. Even in a short time we found some tantalizing facts and obtained guidance from a reptile expert at DEM on how to protect them. Snapping turtles have a ferocious bite and should not be touched unless they are in imminent danger of being run over. They have a marvelous ability to look after themselves and multiply.

Learning about the natural treasures and mysteries of the Conservation District and passing it on to the public is part of the job for which people volunteer at the Conservancy. By next nesting season, we will have assembled definitive guidance from more reptile experts on how best to facilitate (or at least not interfere with) the turtles’ plans. Perhaps by then we’ll even understand how they manage to time their egg laying with the full moon.