We are trying to use the old roots to grow a new tree.
Hurricane Irene took down a lovely old Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) but did not harm the healthy part of the root system. A dozen or more sprouts emerged from the old stump last spring, and in November a forester who advises the Blackstone Parks Conservancy and the city Parks Department singled out the strongest-looking sprout and cut off all the others.* This approach, called coppicing, has been used in Europe for a thousand years to regenerate strong and healthy trees. We hope it will work here to produce a healthy new tree.
Our star researcher, Sarah Gleason, continues to turn up fascinating information about Swan Point and the Boulevard in archives, and others are starting to interview local residents about memories of both Blackstone parks. If you have any letters or diaries relating to the parks or the trolley, please contact us.
Meanwhile, the new Conservancy education committee is collecting historical information that will help us more fully appreciate the parks that have been entrusted to our care as citizens of Providence. They are also developing curriculum materials and signs to make the woodland and ponds more “readable” to people of all ages but especially to the middle school students to whom we are reaching out.
“Blackstone Park in the 1950’s was a perfect getaway for a ten year old with a bicycle. The East Side sixty years ago, less developed than today, provided a child with many other locations for outdoor play…. Cole Farm Court, for instance, was still a farm where horses and cows grazed among a grove of apple trees. However, it was Blackstone Park that offered the lure of a woodland retreat.
“To a child’s imagination, the park was a primeval realm in the heart of the city. Only a few narrow trails wove through the woods, no wider than for a single person to walk or a bicycle to ride. The park was bright and airy; trees weren’t so numerous or tall, and the sunlight filtered down. On the outskirts were grassy areas, while the interior was dense with underbrush and thickets of Mountain Laurel, Pepper Bush, and other shrubs I couldn’t name. We snacked at a Blackberry patch and picked the season’s wildflowers for trophies to put on tables. Most of the time, we sat on a sunny bank, chewed the the tall grass, and contemplated the Seekonk River below.
“As I grew older, York Pond in winter became the park’s main attraction. The pond was wider and deeper, with no island in the middle. Instead of a meadow, a long, paved lane led in from River Road. At the back was a small island for cars to circle. When the pond froze in winter, people came from around the city to skate and cars lined the road. Weekends and after school, we played hockey on the back half of the pond, while the skaters skimmed along the front.
“When I returned to Providence in the late ’70’s after an absence of twenty years, the park had changed, but not significantly. It still retained its woodland character. The paths were wider, the trees taller, but the underbrush was still thick, and flowers and ground cover grew by the sides of the trails and on the hillsides. By then, others had discovered the park. I met them on my walks, but only the same few each time.
Today, the park is a popular destination for a walk or a stroll with the dog. Usage has taken its toll on the park of my childhood, but it’s also gratifying that so many find it a source of pleasure and a place to experience contact with nature. It’s not hard to imagine that with thoughtful stewardship much of the park’s natural beauty can be restored and the best of both worlds coexist in a renewed environment.”
On the Boulevard and in the woods by the Seekonk River we inhaled the last blazes of color, storing up for the long winter. And after narrowly missing a sideswipe by Hurricane Sandy, we counted ourselves lucky with little damage. A good thing, as both parks are heavily used. Of course, we owe the trees’ resilience partly to the extensive pruning we managed with your help these last two years in the Blackstone Boulevard Park.
Even on the morning of the hurricane, bright-shirted runners pounded down the Boulevard path and a few walkers braved the winds, reminding us of the task ahead: to repair badly eroded sections. The boulevard committee will be working through the cold months and meeting with the Providence Parks Department to figure out how best to do this in a way that will hold up over time.