Dedicated to the Preservation and Stewardship of Historic
Blackstone Park Conservation District and Boulevard.
At the end of the Spooky Trail Walk in Blackstone Park sponsored by the Education Committee in October, the “Good Witch,” BPC volunteer Elisa Vele-Tabaddor, explained to a rapt audience what good witches do. Delighted children took home apples donated by Whole Foods and flashlights given by Salk Hardware in Warwick.
Thanks to all attended. If you gave your email in order to share more mushroom finds, please send it again to email@example.com. Look for the next trail walk posting here on the BPC website.
Please be aware that all parts of this plant– roots, leaves, stems, flowers and berries are toxic to people and dogs. At the same time, pokeweed has ecological benefits. It provides valuable sustenance to birds, and it helps hold precious topsoil in place.
We’ve removed the plants growing in or near the trails, but many others remain in the woods. As requested by the Parks Department, please do not leave the trails. Thank you for your cooperation.
Early in September, three volunteers mounted a last-chance expedition to snag the few beautiful but dangerous Purple Loosestrife plants that had appeared on the banks of York Pond before they could release their seeds into the air. Each plant contains up to 2.7 million seeds, which explains the fields of Loosestrife where it has crowded out all other plants. This was a prospect no one wanted for York Pond.
A major grant to the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) for trail work in the Blackstone Park Conservation District will shore up our long-standing efforts to slow runoff and stop erosion. This welcome help arrives just in time to begin addressing a major challenge in a major way.
As we walk in the cool green of the park overlooking the Seekonk River, the ground beneath our feet feels solid enough. But in fact, every rainfall sends more of the thin topsoil sliding down to the foot of bluffs of glacial outwash created 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
“It’s essentially a sand dune,” one BPC science advisor warns, waving photographs of the bluff that caved into the Seekonk River at Butler Hospital in the early 1990s. Such a collapse is probably not imminent here. Still, that image does concentrate the mind.
For years, volunteers lugging barrows full of woodchips and installing runoff-slowing water bars have struggled to stem the flow of topsoil off the central section of the Conservation District to the ground below and eventually into the river. With the Providence Parks Department and the Appalachian Mountain Club they built bluff-protecting fencing using small grants from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).
Working with small numbers of our volunteers and, more recently, Friends of Blackstone Woods, we made some headway, especially above the eastern bluff. Greenery sprouted where there was only bare dirt not long ago. But at this pace, the struggle to slow runoff and stop erosion had little chance of lasting success, especially as super storms became more frequent.
The challenge of reducing the impact of stormwater is considerable. Even the level-looking parts of the plateau in the central section slope 5-15 percent, and the steep parts tilt as much as 40 percent. Without intervention, trails packed hard by walking and running feet are less and less able to absorb rainfall, becoming chutes for downhill-racing water. Aggravating the problem, visitors who ignore the “Please Stay on the Trails” signs trample plants, which then no longer can hold soil in place with their roots.
Both Blackstone parks face stormwater challenges. Though it is less noticeable on the Boulevard, erosion occurs there too, especially on the heavily used path. That problem is costly but manageable. In the Conservation District, however, an intense storm can undo years of effort in minutes, as happened in July 2012.
The three-inch downpour last July gave a foretaste of what to expect, overwhelming the coir “logs” and water bars laboriously installed by volunteers. Grasses that were beginning to repopulate the slope at Parkside with BPC encouragement were washed away. And the new garden of native plants recently installed at Angell Street by the Rhode Island Natural History Society and BPC volunteers was pierced by a small gully.
Now, with the Providence Parks Department and a substantial grant from DEM and the Rhode Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the Blackstone Parks Conservancy can do a better job of keeping the park where it belongs. The grant will allow us to buy tough matting to hold steep slopes in place while native plants take root, more coir logs, and other materials recommended for slowing runoff. And concentrated resources can accomplish in weeks what would take volunteers years.
Meanwhile, volunteers will work to match the $67,320 grant with roughly $17,000 worth of labor and funds. A subcommittee is fine tuning the plan drafted last fall, selecting the best plants for bioremediation in bare areas and drawing up details for steps, or “cribs,” in one steep trail to capture water, as well as other erosion control measures. Our charge is to “first, do no harm.” We want to ensure that neither the money nor the work is wasted. Soon we will solicit competitive bids, and work in the woods should begin in September.
The project will be phased to allow time to intervene in one area, then step back and monitor results before proceeding to the next phase. Later this summer and early fall, look for tables at Parkside Avenue where you can see the refined plan (also on the BPC website) and make comments and suggestions. We will need volunteers to help with many aspects of the project.
Some say, “Erosion is natural. Let nature take its course.” Erosion is natural. But human beings have altered the natural course of things. Now, thanks to the trail grant, we can give nature a chance to heal as we move toward our vision of healthy urban green space for all.
The need for an education committee seemed obvious when the Blackstone Parks Conservancy set one up last fall. To continue carrying out our mission of caring for the Boulevard and for the 45-acre Blackstone Park Conservation District, we would have to enable more people to learn and care about nature.
Nearly every week for years now, junior high school students led by Audubon teachers supported by the Providence After School Program have been studying the woodland and ponds beside the Seekonk River and forming deep attachments to the Park in the process. Why not offer similar opportunities to people of all ages!
The committee of several people experienced in working with children and led by educator Chair Rick Richards has accomplished much in less than a year. Consulting with experts ranging from the City Forester Doug Still to Audubon teachers, they have designed ambitious plans for monthly trailwalks as well as events for families and small children. So far the BPC has held three trailwalks and plans three more.
Most children today, and many of their parents, have less exposure to nature than their grandparents did. Some adults worry about the implications of this loss for the childrens’ well-being, including their ability to learn. And they wonder who will provide stewardship for natural areas in the future.
Considerable research on early childhood development shows that children learn naturally through exploring and experimenting. According to committee member and developmental psychologist Elisa Vele-Tabaddor, “the narrow focus on academics in our culture is limiting opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom and develop their creativity and ‘naturalistic’ intelligence.”
In a city with relatively few wooded areas, Blackstone Park Conservation District is an important resource. “The BPC events,” says Dr. Vele-Tabaddor, “offer children a variety of experiences to interact with their natural environment and build their knowledge base in multiple domains. Bringing children into the parks for family-friendly, fun events prepares our youngest citizens for success both in the classroom and in life.”
This summer, parents eager to find activities to engage their vacationing wards jumped at the BPC events for small children. Dozens of children sang and danced to musical storyteller Lindsay Meehan’s guitar under the trees in the field opposite Narragansett Boat Club on River Road. On the summer solstice, the BPC marked the pending full moon with its first fairy house workshop. About 60 parents and small children turned up.
The audience listened raptly as kindergarten teacher Nadine DiStefano described fairies, the “caregivers and healers” of nature. She explained that fairies are shy and generally can’t be seen—“when you are in the woods and a leaf moves without wind, it’s a fairy.” Asked if they’d ever seen a fairy, two children raised their hands.
Children crouched down in front of a piece of driftwood to closely five miniature houses created by resident artist Elena Riverstone. Helped by meticulously organized retired kindergarten teacher Suzanne Renfro and others, they selected building materials from a table with trays of bark, acorns, fronds, pieces of slate, feathers, flowers, etc. Each child received a blob of play dough, a flat cardboard cutout designed to be folded it into a three-dimensional house, and tape. Then they spread out to waiting worktables to work their own magic.
Alongside the Providence Parks Department, the BPC has found that working toward Healthy Urban Green Space for All can be fun.
“Summertime….and the living is easy….” The Blackstone Parks Conservancy is humming with new volunteers and new subcommittees and activities.
On the summer solstice this June the BPC Education Committee took advantage of the pending full moon to hold its first fairy house workshop in the field opposite Narragansett Boat House on River Road. About 60 parents and small children turned up to hear kindergarten teacher Nadine DiStefano talk about fairies, the “caregivers and healers” of nature. The audience listened raptly as she explained that fairies are shy and generally can’t be seen—“when you are in the woods and a leaf moves without wind, it’s a fairy.” Asked if they’d ever seen a fairy, two children raised their hands.
Children crouched down in front of a piece of driftwood to closely study five miniature houses created by Elena Riverstone, our resident artist, to show the children whatcould be done. Helped by retired kindergarten teacher Suzanne Renfro and others, the children selected “building materials” from trays of bark, acorns, fronds, pieces of slate, feathers, flowers, etc. Each child received a blob of play dough, a flat cardboard cutout designed to be folded it into a three-dimensional house, and tape. Then they spread out to waiting worktables to work their own magic.
Mary comes to the park sometimes with her mother and baby brother. Remembers coming once for a picnic when she was small and a seagull flew off with her sandwich and she had to share her mother’s.
A group of volunteers from Citizens Bank joined URI-certified Conservancy volunteers joined URI-certified Conservancy volunteers this spring to tackle the Japanese knotweed patch that is creeping into the woods.