This is the question on everyone’s lips one freezing morning in the wooded Blackstone Park Conservation District. “Why can’t we meet indoors?” We’re joking, of course, because we are here for a reason. And here–with the last leaves clinging to the trees near the end of the one of the brightest autumns in memory—is not such a bad place to be.
A group of Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) board and education committee members have come to the woods to hear what Janis Nepshinsky, Visitor Services Manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Rhode Island, has to say about how to make the Park more inviting and to capture visitors’ attention. Janis is providing backup for a new federal and state funded program designed to assist park support groups like ours in our mission of stewardship, especially in conservation and education. It’s called the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Project.
We start at the kiosk. Is it in a good place? What should be on it? Janis likes its location tucked at the edge of the woodland opposite East Orchard Street and suggests that FWS could build a rack at the bottom for brochures. Then, moving onto a trail, we start to talk about informational signs. How many should there be and where should they be placed? How detailed should they be? “You need to figure out who your audience is,” says Janis.
Also present is April Alix, the freshly hired coordinator of the new program, which so far is only funded for one year. April is already known to the BPC as an effective Audubon and Providence After-School Alliance teacher. After working in the Park with middle school students nearly every week for several years, she knows this 45-acre woodland overlooking the Seekonk River in a way few people do.
Part of the Fish and Wildlife Service mission is to expand and inform children’s contact with nature, and this is important to the Conservancy as well. Urban children in particular have far less exposure to nature than their parents and grandparents did. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this exposure not only for the future of the environment but also for children’s physical and mental health.
April’s job as liaison between park support groups, schools, and the Providence Department for Parks and Recreation sounds a little vague at first. But given how much the Partnership for Providence Parks coordinated by Wendy Nilsson has accomplished in less than two years, the potential for intelligent coordination of resources is clear. By providing access to a wide range information and to grants, the partnership has generated considerable interest in our parks while helping friends’ groups develop their capacity to care for them.
With her science training and her energy, April could make a difference to the Conservancy and the other park groups that emphasize conservation. Ideas for taking advantage of the new services quickly spring to mind. For instance, Moses Brown teacher Tara Tsakaklides, who with Conservancy help has launched stormwater studies in her AP Science classes, would like to know what April and her students learned while testing water quality in the Blackstone ponds. By using the same kind of water testing kits, Tara suggests that her students could build on the information base that is already there and add to it each year.
What if, with the Conservancy’s help, several local schools could build a record of observations of water quality in Hockey and York ponds over time? That would enable this part of Providence to plug into statewide efforts to track pollution and temperature in freshwater water bodies and estuaries.
In these times when money is tight and the natural world is increasingly stressed by habitat loss and storms, we can strengthen programs by sharing resources and avoiding duplication. Multi-year study of other areas in addition to water quality, such as wildlife or soil, could greatly help guide management of the parks. If other schools were interested in such a plan, the urban refuge project and the Conservancy together could help facilitate the necessary connections.