Blackstone Parks Conservancy

A New Day in Providence Parks

Working with the Providence Department of Parks and Recreation and Superintendent Bob McMahon, the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) has brought about many positive changes in the Blackstone parks. Now, a new superintendent—Wendy Nilsson—who worked closely with McMahon as head of a volunteer park neighbors’ support group, promises to continue this work.

The new leadership began at a run this spring with innovations made possible by the hiring of a supervisor of park improvements, Brian Byrnes, from Yardworks, a valuable addition to a department long starved of personnel. Brynes is working with the Conservancy on its new Best Management Practices (BMPs). Eventually each of the city’s 112 parks will have their own BMPs.

The Conservation District, where the BPC seeks to restore and protect the natural environment, is unique but for one sister park: Neutakonkanut Hill. For instance, the BPC is experimenting with not mowing certain areas such as the lawn on Parkside. Suspending mowing the last two years has resulted in considerable revegetation and ended an erosion problem that had sent sand onto the intersection at Angell and Parkside as long as people can remember.

As the heart and brains behind the Providence Partnership for Parks, Wendy Nilsson spent several years galvanizing neighborhood park groups and awakening citizens to the potential of parks, and finding tools for improving these places. She is famous for mobilizing human and fiscal resources– especially useful in times of reduced funding.


Oh to Be a Winter Moth!

As many have noticed, winter moths have devoured even more tree leaves this year than their parents did in 2014. And the Blackstone parks on the Boulevard and beside the Seekonk River have been hit especially hard. What sounded like rain in the Blackstone woods in May was actually the sound of tiny caterpillars chomping their way through trees and some bushes.

From the caterpillars’ perspective, life, though short, is great. They swing from twig to twig on long silken ropes to munch at will on an ample food supply, troubled by few predators, a state of affairs that is likely to remain for several years to come.

Eventually, however, there is hope for Rhode Island trees in the form of a parasitic fly, cyzenis albicans, which has begun to turn around the severe infestation in Massachusetts.

Coming out of work at U Mass Amherst, the fly was introduced to the Ocean State for the first time in 2011 at Goddard Park. It will be a few years until we begin to see a turnaround, says entomologist Heather Faubert at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and it will happen first at Goddard.

This year flies were released Lincoln Woods and Little Compton, which brought the number of sites in RI to seven. “We are lucky to have them,” says Faubert, who manages the program for the state. Assembling the flies is very tedious—a ”labor of love.”

Every year U Mass sends a man to British Columbia for six weeks to collect mature winter moth larvae, which all look the same. Then they are brought back to pupate in a lab. Moths will emerge from any that were not ‘parisitized’ and be disposed of. Next spring, flies will emerge from any winter moth larvae that were invaded by the fly, and later released in selected places.

The only effective insecticide that is benign to beneficial insects has to be applied in March to be effective against the winter moth larvae. City Forester Doug Still Doug Still and Blackstone Parks Conservancy volunteers are inspecting the Boulevard trees to assess damage, and if funds can be raised, the City may spray Boulevard trees next year. Unfortunately, spraying impractical for woodlands.

Jane Peterson