Dedicated to the Preservation and Stewardship of Historic
Blackstone Park Conservation District and Boulevard.
In early March, this column goes into production for the April edition, while we are still in the depths of an exceptionally cold winter, and Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers wish they could know what the future—at least Spring—will bring to the parks. But by the time you read this edition, you may already have the answers to questions that have us on tenterhooks:
When will it stop snowing? And when will the thaw come? Just asking….
- When will it stop snowing? And when will the thaw come? Just asking….
- How did the plants in the Boulevard gardens and in the habitat restoration projects in the Blackstone Park Conservation District (BPCD) fare under 62 (so far) inches of snow? How will the freezing affect the plants?
3. How will the Boulevard and the BPCD handle the onrush of stormwater that will come with the thaw?
As thousands of walkers and runners know, parts of the central path in the Boulevard are impassable in muddy weather, forcing people onto the grassy verge. With the Parks Department, the Conservancy is working toward installation of relatively new materials in a particularly damaged section near Loring Avenue to test whether they can withstand heavy use.
As for the woodland overlooking the Seekonk River, the enormous effort by state environmental agencies and Conservancy volunteers that went into the restoration of trails and habitat completed in 2014 was designed to slow runoff and erosion and promote absorption of water close to thirsty roots. If these projects continue to hold up as well as they did last year–if the gravel and woodchips filling trail ruts and the waterbars and steps retaining them stay in place on the slopes–we can be certain that we are on the right track.
And IF we are fortunate enough to be awarded money for the next project, namely, the restoration of the steep trail down toward the boathouse, we will can finish most of the most difficult trail work in the center section this year. Whether that award comes through will be known by mid-March.
- Will the ducks that spend their winter vacation on the Seekonk River stay around long enough for the people who want to see them? The BPC guided walk scheduled for February 27th was effectively frozen out and rescheduled for March 21st @ 11 a.m. We hope that a few holes will appear in the river ice by then so that the ducks can perform for their fans.
The Duck Walk was planned as the Education Committee’s first winter program. Other weekend programs like the ones that many children and parents have attended in years past will be scheduled for spring, fall, and winter. Most July and August programs will take place during the week. Please check our website.
In addition to repeating popular programs—music, building fairy houses, bird banding, the boat ride up the river, etc.—the Committee is planning other offerings for 2015. In order to achieve the quality that families have become accustomed to, they need a few volunteers to give a few hours to preparation and/or staffing of these events. Please contact email@example.com if you can help.
By the time you hold the April edition in your hands, we hope you are reveling in the first signs of spring in the Blackstone parks and all over Providence. As Thomas Carew wrote in The Spring nearly 400 years ago, this is a time when “the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth and makes it tender….”
At the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC), the list of unattended needs is long. It was in a searching frame of mind that the Board of the BPC recently took up two longstanding questions about the southern end of the Boulevard Park.
First: How can we link the Boulevard Park to the Blackstone Park Conservation District? Only a sliver–the head of ravine given to Providence in 1866–is visible from the Boulevard. It is a steep drop blocked by a chain link fence. One needs to proceed down Irving Avenue to see the first trail into the beautiful but relatively little known 45-acre conservation district above the Seekonk River.
Second: How can we make access to the lower tip of the Boulevard Park (and its newly refurbished garden) safer?
The safety issue grabbed our attention when Vice-president Carrie Drake described feeling like a mouse escaping a hawk as she tried to scramble south from the southernmost tip of the linear park across the paved no-man’s land to the little triangle where Butler Avenue splits without being picked off by speeding cars. Other board members described their own close calls making their way to or from this part of the Park, especially when crossing the northbound lane. Whether to the east, the west, or the south, there is no clear way to get across the street.
How did this area come to be so muddled, hence dangerous? Step by step, is the answer. Individual problems were solved without an overall plan to take pedestrians as well as drivers and cyclists into account.
If, like Carrie, you try to walk north from the little triangle toward the Boulevard Park, you’re forced to cross an oddly shaped area of concrete with no indication of where drivers are supposed to go. You may occasionally see a few parked cars there. Elton Street is to your left, but to your right is a baffling double intersection, with a larger triangle, where Irving Avenue divides to accommodate eastward and westward traffic. Here, also, Butler morphs into a two-lane road and becomes Blackstone Boulevard. But the right lane is marked off limits to cars with slashing white diagonals. The purpose of that section is unclear.
Now, pass through the southern section of the Park with its garden and looping trail beloved of thousands of walkers and runners to Irving Avenue. Here a crosswalk enables you to cross safely to the next section of the Park. From that section, two crosswalks connect to the east and west.
Here’s the rub: If you wish to walk anywhere safely from the south section, you have to cross to the north first–even if you want to head south towards Lincoln School or Temple Beth-El.
Clearly, the City’s priority here was on moving vehicular traffic. And when cyclists demanded a path, one was added. But bipeds weren’t adequately considered. Neither was stormwater drainage, which is a growing public concern.
The challenge of figuring out a sensible solution to this tangle in a way that ensures the safety and satisfaction of all concerned parties is a planner’s dream. Not to mention the opportunity to finally link the two Blackstone parks in a way that everyone can see and safely use.
These are the relatively easy tasks. Bringing them about is another matter.
- If you care about the Blackstone Parks and you haven’t already done so, look at our website: blackstoneparksconservancy.org.
- If you walk, run, or drive by the Blackstone Boulevard Park and the Blackstone Park Conservation District by the Seekonk River– and you like what you see–consider joining the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC).
- These heavily used parks don’t look as lovely as they do by magic—they are maintained by the Conservancy in partnership with the Providence Parks and Recreation Department.
- If you enjoy the Blackstone Parks, send us your observations, suggestions, complaints, whatever.
- We can’t always do what people want, but we do take note and, if necessary, we follow through with the Parks Department.
For example, we can’t get rid of all the poison ivy in the woods as one member requested (in the Conservation District, only minimal interventions are allowed). But as soon as the resources become available, we plan to remove poison ivy from the edges of the trails where people are most likely to come in contact with it.
- If you want the Blackstone Parks to stay as they are or to become even better, get involved – volunteer for a committee or the Board. Volunteers are essential to our work.
- The committees are the engines of the Conservancy, where the work gets organized and done. The Board meets once a month for an hour (a limit strictly observed) to review finances and discuss major questions that come up.
- Pick an activity that you enjoy. Come observe a meeting to see if it aligns with your interests.
- The Boulevard Committee has accomplished much in recent years: raising money for new roofs for the Trolley Shelter and small shelter, for summer concerts, and for the first major pruning of park trees in decades. It helped create the gardens, in the north and south, at the Witherby Statue, and at the Trolley Shelter and maintains them. Ongoing maintenance is essential to keep the Boulevard looking good. Current goal: to see the path repaired.
- The Park Committee helps manage the Blackstone Park Conservation District. It plans and organizes improvements based on the best scientific advice available. The University of Rhode Island is one of many sources of useful information. The recent trail upgrade project with installation of native plants and the new signs resulted from considerable study and consultation with experts.
- The Education Committee brings families with children into the Park for education and entertainment. In two years it has delighted many children and adults with numerous programs, ranging from building fairy houses, bird banding, and the Not so Spooky Trail Walk at Halloween to a jazz concert.
- If you care about the Blackstone parks and you can’t volunteer, tell a friend what the BPC is doing. The ranks of volunteers are thin these days but are needed more than ever as funding for city services declines.
- If you care about the environment, join the BPC. We collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Save the Bay, the Green Infrastructure Coalition, and other environmental groups. We also work with—and benefit greatly from–the Partnership for Providence Parks.
“We have a short window in which to get started between the end of grass growing and when the snow flies,” says Bob McMahon, superintendent of the Providence Department of Parks and Recreation. On a gusty day in late October that promises rain, with two landscape architects and five Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers he is inspecting Blackstone Boulevard. In between mowing and leaf removal–two demanding seasonal tasks–early fall is a good time to focus on pruning, tree-planting, and path restoration.
Pivoting to the Boulevard from the 45-acre Blackstone Park Conservation District (BPCD) after the recent completion of a large trail restoration project represents triage of a sort. Ideally, both Blackstone parks would enjoy full-time management, but the stewardship partners are stretched thin. Over 100 city parks require the department’s attention and the Conservancy is perennially short of volunteers.
There is one saving grace to moving slowly, however: it offers an opportunity to test innovative solutions in small areas, and then to invest in the ones that work. In heavily used parks where humans and nature hold sway, this is an especially helpful approach to the problem of stormwater management challenging the Blackstone parks. The question is, What can best withstand pounding rain and feet?
Repairing and refreshing gardens – In the South Garden, volunteers point out the damage wreaked on several yews by a truck careening through the bottom end this summer. Next the superintendent checks out the new planting funded by Senator Donna Nesselbush and organized by the BPC that he had approved in plan. Volunteers also show him a mountain laurel and a clethra donated from a supporter’s garden, and he quickly approves a BPC proposal to add several low-bush blueberries in the bare north end of the South garden.
Trees - Deming Sherman, acting treasurer of the BPC and keeper of the new tree list, matches new donors and tree choices with landscape architect Joel Booden, a recently retired department employee who is volunteering today. An eastern redbud is suggested for the tree a young couple might donate to celebrate the birth of their new baby, Alexander. In Taiwan, where they come from, planting a tree on such occasions is a custom.
Pruning – In several places enormous 40-year-old yews in the Boulevard Park extend over sidewalks, interfering with pedestrian movement or safety. To improve visibility, pruning orders are given to landscape architect Ed Sanchez.
Next, the superintendent points out that the statue memorializing young Constance Witherby is being eclipsed by overgrown holly bushes and cedar trees. He asks that the canopy around statue be raised by “limbing up” the trees and that the bushes be pruned to give the popular statue some breathing room and more visibility.
Fixing Paths –The superintendent plans to address the deteriorating center path early next year. He wants to try out a new surface material designed both to stabilize paths and to allow for water absorption in the worst area on the Boulevard, at Lorimer Street.
A novice might wonder why the path can’t be fixed directly, but the landscape architects explain that good drainage must be in place before the path is fixed. Mapping grades are needed first. The possibility of adding a small rain garden to absorb water to the east of the path just north of Irving Avenue is suggested.
The stabilizing material the superintendent wants to test is expensive, and installation is challenging. McMahon says the department will try to get a discount on the material. Apparently, Blithewold Manor has had some installed, so BPC volunteers consider a field trip to inspect it.
Wrapping up the visit, the superintendent says they’ll get going right away on what was discussed today and start with pruning. He asks the landscape architects to get grades and photos of the five or six areas already discussed, which they estimate will take two days. Winter will provide time to plan it out and get suppliers lined up, he adds. Depending on when the spring rains end, a tentative rough schedule might be March to late April. If all goes well, path work can begin six to eight weeks later, sometime in May.
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
Moses Brown’s AP science class expected their first field trip to Blackstone Park Conservation District in September to be interesting and possibly fun. They didn’t anticipate being doubled over laughing when a boy in waders in water up to his knees in the middle of York Pond casually took one step and was suddenly into water up to his chest–the pond’s full depth.
This slapstick moment was perhaps not the sort of immersion science teacher Tara Tsakraklides had in mind when she decided to let this year’s class directly experience their adoptive park before giving them classroom work. But at the same time it typified the kind of connection with the woodland and ponds beside the Seekonk River she wanted the students to make on that sparkling fall day. Instead of having experts come lecture them at school first, as was done last year, she decided to get them into the Park right away.
“We have a charge that’s been given to us,” says Tsakraklides. Collaborating with the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) her students are studying the Park ecology with an emphasis on stormwater and the 380-acre watershed that feeds into York Pond and the river. The students will pass their knowledge on to the public in hopes of inspiring more caretakers of the Park.
Early that morning City Forester Doug Still had led the students out of the Moses Brown campus onto Lloyd Avenue and down the long hill of the watershed, stopping now and then to identify and analyze a tree. The skill of observation is one that the teacher hopes the teenagers will develop during this year.
At the Conservation District, BPC board members described the Park’s beginnings in 1866 and some of the highs and lows of its history. Next, the class inspected the trail restoration project in the center section funded by Rhode Island environmental agencies* and managed by the Parks Department and BPC volunteers.
In addition to rebuilding trails that erosion had carved as deeply as two feet in places, the trail project involves planting to keep soil in place when storms come. Unfortunately, this work requires temporary snow fencing to protect tender plants. Board member Margaret Brookner pointed out grasses and wildflowers that have regenerated thanks to protection provided by split rail fences installed by BPC and Appalachian Mountain Club volunteers several years ago and indicated areas scoured clean of plants and topsoil by punishing rains that plants would soon fill in.
In the South section across Angell Street, Still described how Norway maples imported for city streets were pushing out the more valuable native trees out of the woodland, thereby damaging the entire web of life that depends on them. The Parks Department is gradually removing Norway maple saplings in an attempt to give natives a chance to regain their strength. Moving too quickly, Still explained, could simply boost the survival of the faster-spreading, faster-growing invasives.
In afternoon visits to York Pond and Hockey Pond, the class collected samples of water and duckweed, then hiked up the almost dry ravine where the park had begun nearly 150 years ago, a legacy of the Moses Brown family. Discovering an occasional treasure along the way—a locked box, a wallet–they ventured into the tunnel under Butler Avenue for a way before turning back. They decided they had had a full day.
Some children growing up get to spend time in natural settings, to explore, have adventures, and reap the many benefits that spending time outdoors can bring. Increasingly, however, many do not. It is this “nature deficit,” with all its implications for human health and for the future of natural spaces that the BPC is trying to dent.
*Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC),
Visit the south garden below Irving Avenue, newly refurbished thanks to a grant from RI Senator Donna Nesselbush and work by BPC volunteers. And enjoy all the gardens recently weeded by volunteers and mulched with donations from BPC supporters.
A Note of Thanks, to Sally Godfrey, a local gardener helping out with the Forest Health Works habitat planting on Angell Street.
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.
On 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.
Mushrooms 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