Blackstone Parks Conservancy

Dampened but Undaunted

Though rain dampened the turnout for the Blackstone Parks Conservancy’s first Earth Day, volunteers made a spirited showing at the Blackstone Park Conservation District.

On River Road, BPC board member Bob Murphy held his annual spring cleanup, drawing 20 volunteers. At Parkside, Friends of Blackstone Woods and the Conservancy joined hands in the Education Committee to produce a crafts table for children and their first official trail walk.

Volunteers guided by Friends also collected an impressive amount of debris for pickup by the city, noting that some of it had come from neighboring yards.

Anyone with yard debris should place it at the curb for pickup. Dumping in the woods creates more work for thinly stretched volunteers. Often, too, it spreads invasive plant species.

Urban Naturalists from Nathan Bishop Middle School showed up in the Blackstone Park Conservation District to show passersby treasures ranging from a fox pelt to snakeskins. (Did you know there are foxes in the Park?)

The kids were able to answer a lot of questions after their winter session, sponsored by Audubon RI and PASA (Providence After School Alliance).

The photo shows Jaida demonstrating her homemade watershed model to Rick Richards, chair of the BPC Education Committee.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Speaking at the Blackstone Parks Conservancy’s annual meeting at Lippitt House April 2, architectural historian Mack Woodward urged the audience to “think of what this little park is to mean to people a few years from now.” Woodward, a longtime resident of Providence, had just made his first visit to the Blackstone Park Conservation District overlooking the Seekonk River and called it “one of the most remarkable parcels of unspoiled property” he had ever seen.

Sometimes trying to protect a scrap of relatively unspoiled land in a city—a rarity in Providence–can seem like tilting at windmills. People talk of decline in the environmental movement since euphoria of the 70s, and to be sure the environment has taken a lot of blows. Yet at the tenth Land and Water Conservation Summit in March at the University of Rhode Island (URI), the mood was ebullient, noting not just setbacks but successes.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Few would disagree that human beings continue to harm nature. Even though many more people today understand the consequences of that interference, too many feel somehow immune. Protecting our natural environment falls low on the list of priorities for public funds nowadays, and many environmentalists feel discouraged. Everyone from the Providence Parks Department to the Rhode Island Audubon Society to the Conservancy is struggling to do more with less.

Yet in Rhode Island, as Department of Environmental Management (DEM) director Janet Coit noted at the Summit, there is a lot of support, even in the city, for environmental stewardship. And doing more with less is not entirely a bad thing. Everyone can think of environmental projects flush with funds 10 or 20 years ago that failed because of incomplete knowledge or inadequate planning or insufficient maintenance. The dredging of York Pond in the early 2000s is one such project.

Mistakes offer valuable lessons and environmentalists are quick learners. No one funds expensive “end-of-pipe” projects like York Pond anymore. The 12-14-year-olds in the Audubon Urban Naturalist program at Nathan Bishop learn that what happens upstream matters downstream even more than we knew. Today, the Conservancy is working with local experts to craft a study of its 380-acre watershed.

A watershed study won’t remove the sand that piles up in the pond year after year. But a study, and more community involvement, could point the way to less pollution and a healthier wetland. Eventually it might result in less sand and salt on the streets in winter and make a difference in other watersheds and other communities as well.

Even when the odds seem daunting, environmentalists are far from ready to give up. Take the challenge of vandalism in the south section of the Conservation District, for example, where a phantom pruner has been whacking away at bull briar on the edge of Hockey Pond, destroying habitat and clearing trails, causing more erosion, perhaps without realizing the harm he is causing.

When the Conservancy asked Lt. Jon Ryan of District 9 to look at the damage, he didn’t need lengthy explanations to be convinced of habitat’s importance. He studied natural resources at URI and he already knows that woodlands enhance public health and welfare in important ways. He says you can do whatever you do to earn a living and still contribute to the environment. Improving public safety is one way of contributing.

The environmental movement now is focused on facts and priorities more than ever, and this is reflected in the young people who are showing up to volunteer at the Conservancy. They are savvy and realistic and eager to learn. They may work for a bank or a computer company, and their skills enhance their potential contribution to environmental protection.

For months the Education Committee boned up on the secrets of the woodland, and on Earth day they led the first of many trail walks. Programs for exploration and play are being designed for families and children of all ages.

Thinking about “what this little park is to mean to people years from now” is what motivates the Conservancy to challenge ignorance about the Conservation District. We invite everyone who never walked there to visit. June is the month when mountain laurel blooms set the hills alight.

Is the glass half empty or half full? As more people join us to work toward Healthy Urban Green Space for All, the more full it looks.

Jane Peterson

Birding Delight

By Elisa Vele-Tabaddor

Magnolia Warbler

The other morning I awakened to an early sunrise and the sweet sound of birds tweeting outside my window–a much welcomed sign that Spring is approaching.  Soon the trees will blossom, the temperatures will rise, and various migratory birds will brighten our local green space with stunning colors and song.

During their Spring and Fall migration, about 200 species of birds follow the Atlantic Coast Flyway travelling to Northern New England and Canada from the tropics of Florida and Central and South America and back again getting a ride on the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Between mid-April and mid-May is the best time to view the spring migration and catch sight of a variety of songbirds, warblers and hummingbirds.

Each year about 28 species of Warblers can be regularly spotted. More than 20 species of warblers have been seen on a good day at Swan Point. The greatest diversity of warblers usually peaks around mid-May but there are plenty near the end of April. (The Sun Chronicle, 2010). Look in tree tops, especially of oak trees, where they feed on the caterpillars munching on unfurling leaves.

Blackburnian Warbler

Warbler sightings in Blackstone Park:

  • Hooded Warbler
  • Black & White Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Black throated Blue Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Black throated Green Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • American Redstart
  • Common Yellowthroat

As our bird population burgeons in the Spring, it gets me thinking about what can we do to help protect and nourish the birds in and around Blackstone Park.

  • Hooded Warbler

    Individuals can pay attention to habitat and migration issues. They can also donate time and money to local conservation organizations that support wildlife habitats. Animal lovers can walk domestic cats and dogs in designated areas so as not to disrupt or destroy ground- or low-nesting animal life. They can also bypass areas of natural landscape that provide dense, protective nesting areas and wild seeds that nourish our bird population.

  • Simply observing and recording the wildlife that you see while walking around or in the Conservation District can help. With the help of Brown University students, the BPC hopes to erect bulletin boards where passersby can note their sighting of birds and animals. Such records can be useful to scientists.
  • Keeping neighborhood parks clean and free of debris and trash can also help protect wildlife. Use designated trash cans whenever visiting neighborhood parks and be a good neighbor by picking up trash in green areas.
  • Avoid using toxic lawn chemicals.



Palm Warbler












Another Palm Warbler










Northern Parula