Back in 1979 a group of neighbors organized as Blackstone Park Improvement Association around issues of traffic, home security, liquor licenses, a proposed marina, and several zoning issues. In 1987, the BPIA raised $70,000 for legal fees to oppose a proposed coal powered plant across the Seekonk River in East Providence. Success! Four years later the proposal was withdrawn. The group continued to meet to address ongoing quality of life issues.
There’s a yellow magnolia where Tannery Road crosses the Boulevard. Its golden tag celebrates Estelle Singer, a member of the BPIA who became a Rhode Island Tree Council tree steward and looked at the Boulevard with a freshly concerned eye. It was because of Estelle that the BPIA formed a Boulevard Committee and forged our partnership with the Providence Parks Department. She helped lead members of the committee in the first tree inventory in 1998. The following year saw the first volunteer tree pruning. With Fred Holman, a Parks Department landscape architect, the group started working on new planting plans and repairs for the center path.
At the same time, a Park Committee began to care for trails in what would become Blackstone Park Conservation District and to work toward improvements in the area of York Pond, with the leadership and tireless support of Fred Holman.
Raising Funds and Growing
The Boulevard was originally landscaped in 1904. To celebrate the approaching centennial and plan for the next hundred years, members of the BPIA formed the Friends of Blackstone Park and Boulevard in 2000 as a 501 (c) (3) corporation to raise funds for reforestation. The “Friends” also focused on ecology and maintenance of the Boulevard and Blackstone Park. In 2003, the city legally designated the park the Blackstone Park Conservation District, limiting its use to passive enjoyment.
With success came responsibility! In 2007, having come close to its goal of planting trees and shrubs and adding benches, the Friends became a membership organization, the Blackstone Parks Conservancy, to engage residents in the continuing care of the Boulevard—pruning, replacement of dead trees, restoration and upkeep of its structures, enhancement of its plantings, and maintenance of the center path. By the beginning of 2011, the BPC had raised over $400,000, and attracted 500 supporters.
The Conservancy has kept a strong partnership with the Parks Department. Since Fred Holman’s retirement, we have worked with Parks Department landscape architect Joel Boodon and City Forester Doug Still on projects ranging from plantings to restoration to bench installation.
We have funded the planting, mulching and watering of 300 trees, steered installation of 25 new benches, worked to repair the center path, restored and landscaped the historic Trolley Shelter, and enhanced the setting of the statue. Volunteers keep the landscape clear of trash.
Blackstone Park Conservation District
With help from volunteers of all ages, we have steered erosion control projects on trails and worked to remove invasive plants and to plant native shrubs. Experts in woodlands, native plants and wildlife have donated their time to help plan for the Conservation District’s health. We have worked with the Parks and Public Works Departments to solve long and short term problems of sediment accumulation in York Pond. Unofficial volunteers pick up trash on their walks, and twice a year we hold a clean-up in the Conservation District.