Blackstone Parks Conservancy

On Sunday, June 4, 2:00-4:00, the Blackstone Parks Conservancy invites you to the opening of RiverWood, a new space in Blackstone Park dedicated to children and families. We have been gently adapting a small, natural clearing into a space where children and their families can enjoy being in the woods for imaginative play, programs, and storytelling.  Just a few steps into the woods from Blackstone Field, directly across from Narragansett Boat Club, RiverWood has a special spirit all its own.  

Our Opening Celebration will be held in Blackstone Field and RiverWood.  We’ll have live music with Jennifer Romanat-Haven, and kids will have their choice of activities– building a stick fence, covering a wetu, making a nature craft, playing field games, face painting, listening to stories hosted by Books on the Square, and joining a drumming circle led by Luiz Arias from the RI Philharmonic Music School.  It’s a party! Don’t miss the opening celebration of RiverWood.

At Blackstone Field, across from the Narragansett Boat Club (2 River Dr. aka River Rd., Providence, RI 02906).

A new vision for Blackstone Boulevard depicts a destination for thousands of drivers, walkers, runners, and bikers even more welcoming than it is now—and more sustainable. It could more nearly resemble the original dream of 19th-century city leaders, who, in the days of horse-drawn carriages, envisaged more than an ordinary roadway.

The boulevard was conceived to extend Butler Avenue and replace the original road inside the cemetery with one on farmland just outside the western boundary. But the Swan Point directors in 1887 wanted more than a mere means of conveying visitors to the cemetery. They specified a “fine boulevard” with a shaded drive; a streetcar road (to serve growing numbers of visitors who would “no longer have to ‘submit to the tortures of an antiquated “bus”’”); and “winding paths.” To realize their vision they hired a leading landscape architect, Horace Cleveland, designer of Roger Williams Park.

Changing Times

With additional planting in the 1900s, the 1.6-mile-long park in the center of the Boulevard flourished. And over time the balance between park and roadway became more park-like. When the trolley ceased operation in 1948, the site of its rails became a path for walking and, later, running. More recently, the popularity of biking inspired delineating part of the roadway for a bike path.

The path and Trolley Shelter after World War II deteriorated until late in the 20th century, when Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers began working with the Parks Department to install new trees and benches. Now the Boulevard Committee and Chairman Colgate Searle, a landscape architect on sabbatical from RISD, are working to strengthen the historic park’s future.

In addition to creating an online master list of trees, Searle is studying the soil in the badly worn path in order to recommend workable improvements to the Parks Department. He and other BPC board members also envisage ways to prevent erosion and capture more stormwater for reuse by trees and plants.

Searle’s slides illustrating the Park’s venerable history fascinated attendants of the BPC annual meeting in March. He suggested managing the Boulevard from one sidewalk to the next as part of the urban forest to enhance the experience of driving—or walking or running or biking–under an arch of trees. It would hopefully be safer than it now is.

Boulevard Traffic Proposal

Far from the days when carriages were forbidden to drive faster than four miles an hour in Swan Point, the Boulevard Park in recent years sometimes floats in a sea of traffic. With speed have come accidents, like the one that knocked the boulder at the intersection with Lloyd 25 feet southward, where it remains. Although auto accidents dwindled after the bike paths were drawn, residents still endured late-night motorcycle races, and cyclists have been cut off and even knocked over by impatient drivers.

In response to neighbor concern over traffic, the BPC board, guided by civil engineer Jon Ford, drafted the following Boulevard Traffic Principles for possible use in future discussions:

“The Conservancy proposes that traffic-calming solutions be consistent with the Boulevard’s historic character and ecological needs wherever possible, thus making the park more viable. In general, this means:

    • Increasing green space
    • Reducing extraneous pavement
    • Improving stormwater management
    • Providing a minimum of conveniently located on-street parking
    • Enhancing bicycle safety and use.

“Perhaps most important, the Conservancy encourages a community-based dialogue to ensure that the neighbors affected are part of the design and selection of alternatives.”

 

Jane Peterson

The Providence Parks Department’s Forestry Division and PNPP are excited to launch Providence Citizen Foresters, an opportunity for tree-loving residents in and around the city to further engage with and tend to our urban forest! The Citizen Forester program will offer technical training focused specifically on the care of young, urban trees. It will authorize those who complete the program to help steward our young city trees and become leaders in the Providence tree community.  The next training day is Wednesday, May 17th, 2017!  For more details and to apply click here. 

Join volunteers from the Blackstone Parks Conservancy on Wednesday May 3rd at 5pm as we spruce up for spring, spreading wood chips and fixing fences in the center section. It’s a light workout, a surprising amount of fun…and we need your help! You are welcome for a few minutes or the whole time. Meet at the kiosk along Parkside Road.

Join us in Blackstone Park to celebrate Earth Day 2017 as part of citywide events marking this day. Rain or shine, we’ll gather on Saturday, April 22rd, from 10:00 to noon, by York Pond, where Irving Avenue, Gulf Avenue and River Road meet ( GPS: 41.835954, -71.379459).  We’ll be leading our traditional spring cleaning effort along the banks of the Seekonk River and York Pond. Bring the kids! We will provide all the clean-up supplies and some light snacks.

 

Toward Renewal

The heart quickens at the very thought of Spring as we huddle against sharp winds and way-below freezing temperatures in early March. And here at the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC), we have another reason to be thrilled: the hiring of an executive director, Amy Larkin.

When it became apparent last fall that the BPC was unable to reach enough potential supporters to better fulfill our mission of caring for the Blackstone Parks, the board voted to find a part-time executive director with marketing experience. Our first survey, which was conducted last fall, brought this need home (see abbreviated survey outcome below).

In addition to being an enthusiastic user of both Blackstone parks, where she runs and walks with her young family, Amy Larkin brims with ideas for how to convey their value to Providence residents.

As a longtime marketing director for U.S. Sailing, and from her personal experience as a proud resident of Providence, Amy knows that many users are unaware of the BPC’s role in tending these historic parks. And she has many ideas for how to recruit the volunteers we need in order to continue the popular programs of the Education Committee, not to mention the activities of the Boulevard and Park committees.

The BPC is expecting to see considerable synergy between Amy Larkin and volunteer board member Amy Zinsser as well as a new recruit to the board, Allison Bryant. All three have deep experience in marketing and membership. So you will be hearing much more about the Blackstone parks in the months to come.

Survey Results

The BPC is indebted to Amy Zinsser for designing and collating the BPC’s first-ever survey of Providence residents. Bringing her experience as a marketer familiar with statistics to the task, Amy recently analyzed the survey results and explained them to board members eager to learn about an area unfamiliar to them.

A significant sample drawn from nearly 800 residents of Providence revealed that many people would like to participate in more activities in both parks, especially the Conservation District overlooking the Seekonk River. Also of interest to the Conservancy is peoples’ interest in participating in more hands-on activities. Helping people to fulfill this desire is where the new executive director and new volunteers will come in.

Winter Duck Walk

The Blackstone Parks Conservancy has just finished its second Winter Duck Walk, another major success for the Education Committee. The Seekonk River is Florida to many diving and dabbling ducks escaping the Canadian winter. The antics of the migratory birds delighted more than 70 participants on a sunny day in the high 50’s.

Lauren Parmalee, Senior Director of Education at Audubon Society of Rhode Island, led the walk. Her sharp eyes helped the group identify 17 different species.

The group, ranging from veteran to first-time birdwatchers of all ages, shared bird books, stories, binoculars, and tips for how to spot faraway birds in the wide river. Hot chocolate and coloring books at the Narragansett Boat Club completed the outing, which exemplified the kinds of well-organized events the tiny Education Committee has been staging for more than three years now.

Jane Peterson

Please join the Blackstone Parks Conservancy for light refreshments and to learn about all the ways you can get involved as volunteer for the parks.

This event is for you if:

You enjoy meeting new, fun, engaging people
You want to learn about how to help keep our Blackstone Parks healthy and vibrant
You enjoy free refreshments on a Sunday afternoon
You want to take a guided walk (weather permitting) through the parks

We look forward to seeing you!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 – 4:30pm

9 Parkside Road, Providence, RI

 

 

Providence, RI (March 13, 2017) – The Blackstone Parks Conservancy, the organization dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of historic Blackstone Park Conservation District and Blackstone Boulevard, announced that Amy Larkin (Providence, RI) has joined as the executive director.

Alongside Jane Peterson, President of the BPC; Amy will be the face and voice for the organization. Her other responsibilities will include promoting the organization and parks associated with the Conservancy, increasing volunteer engagement, and boosting the organization’s activities and membership.

“Amy brings a strong background of marketing and communications, and we are thrilled to welcome her,” said Jane Peterson, president of the Blackstone Parks Conservancy. “These parks need and deserve the kind of expertise Amy brings to the table.”

Previously Amy’s work was as a long-time marketing director for US Sailing, and from her personal experience as a proud resident of Providence, Amy knows that many users are unaware of the BPC’s role in tending these historic parks.

On her new position, Amy states, “I am excited about joining the Blackstone Parks Conservancy and am looking forward to working with the board, members and volunteers to promote and enhance the incredible jewels of parks that we are lucky to have in our backyard.”

Amy, her husband McKenzie, and their son and daughter live in Wayland Square.

About the Blackstone Parks Conservancy: Founded in 1979 the Blackstone Parks Conservancy is dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of historic Blackstone Park Conservation District and Blackstone Boulevard. The BPC cares for these two city parks in partnership with the Providence Parks Department and the Department of Public Works. The Conservancy is a membership organization with an all-volunteer board of directors.

Winter Duck Walk 2017

Gadwall, photographed by BPC volunteer Elena Riverstone

Luckily for the bird-watchers who flocked to the Blackstone Parks Conservancy’s second Winter Duck Walk on February 19th, the Seekonk River is Florida to many diving and dabbling ducks escaping the Canadian winter. The antics of the migratory birds delighted more than 70 participants on a sunny day in the high 50’s.

Lauren Parmalee, Senior Director of Education at Audubon Society of Rhode Island, led the walk. Her sharp eyes helped the group identify 17 different species (see list below). Earlier Lauren had sighted a rare visitor to New England, the Tufted Duck, as well as the rarely seen Barrow’s Goldeneye.

The group, ranging from veteran to first-time birdwatchers of all ages, shared bird books, stories, binoculars, and tips for how to spot faraway birds in the wide river. Hot chocolate and coloring books at the Narragansett Boat Club completed the outing.

Consider adding the BPC February 2018 Winter Bird Walk to the list of not-to-be-missed events for next year.

 

Buffleheads, photographed by BPC volunteer Elena Riverstone

Mid-winter is a time to dream of new green leaves unfolding in the Blackstone parks and the mountain laurel lighting up the woods like so many giant paper lanterns. And to figure out how the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) can best serve the parks and the thousands who will use them in 2017.

Like many non-profit organizations, the BPC happily noticed a bump in contributions last fall. And with this small spike came new members and more expressions of support than usual. Much appreciated notes on contribution envelopes usually say things like “Keep up the good work,” or “You’re doing a great job!” But one response to our fall appeal stood out from the rest: “Now is the time for us all to pull together!”

The boost couldn’t have come at a better time. While many loyal members consistently support the BPC’s care of the two Blackstone parks, some friends have moved away in recent years and our membership numbers have declined slightly when we need them to be rising.

Despite the efforts of our volunteers to reach out, far too many Providence residents–even close neighbors and others who frequently walk or run in one or both parks—do not know who it is that adds new trees and plants to the Boulevard and waters them. Nor do they realize who refurbishes the trails in the Blackstone Park Conservation District and replaces the plants that have died over the winter.

The BPC supported by our members does all of the above and much more in collaboration with an overextended Parks Department charged with looking after more than 100 city parks. And dwindling resources. Rhode Island’s environmental agencies also provide crucial assistance, especially in addressing stormwater and erosion challenges in the heavily used Conservation District.

But all this work is not enough. To do justice to the parks, before the busy spring-summer-fall season begins the BPC needs to beef up its membership and its cadre of volunteers in order to catch up with invasive plant species and to avoid having to cut back our concerts and popular education programs. Reversing attrition challenges is high on our agenda.

Meanwhile, there is more to do to improve the stability of the parks in the face of erratic rainfall. Like environmentalists everywhere, we are scrambling to build resilience into our precious green spaces. Park Committee Chair Carrie Drake and member Margaret Brookner and City Forester Doug Still brought home some useful ideas along these lines from the January workshop organized by the U.S. Forest Service in Boston.

On February eighth this year the temperature hit 60 degrees. And the next day came a blizzard with 25 degrees. New Englanders are accustomed to weather swings, but not to the extremes we are now seeing. Storm surges require that we spend more time and money strengthening paths and trails, and drought has made it essential to water the boulevard and new plants in the woods more often than in the past.

Plans for 2017

This month the newly revived Boulevard Committee is figuring out how to manage pruning, watering, and mulching in 2017, as well a tree inventory and solutions for the worn center path.

The Park Committee will continue the popular Park Keeping sessions and work on badly eroded areas and invasive plant removal and replacement projects.

How many educational programs and concerts take place will depend on new volunteers signing up with the Education Committee. To participate, please contact the BPC (see below).

And please remember to send your Eastside Marketplace receipts to the Conservancy.

Jane Peterson