Blackstone Parks Conservancy

Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, we’ve had cancel tonight’s concert at the Blackstone Boulevard Trolley Shelter with Miss Wensday and the Cotillions. We are making every effort to find a make up date.

Given all that York Pond by the Seekonk River has been through at the hands of humans, well-intentioned and not, in the last few centuries, you might not expect to see much movement there. But on a morning this May it throbbed with life! Five egrets flew up to roost in trees at water’s edge, ducks splashed and eight snapping turtles lumbered nearby. Two different species of herons came and went, using plants for sustenance and shelter that the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) installed over a decade ago at the water’s edge.

Now burdened by street sand and pollutants, York Pond used to resemble Grotto Creek just to the north, an open-mouthed inlet where fresh water and bay water sloshed back and forth. Old underground streams drained a 380-acre east side watershed through the five-acre ravine lush with ferns and wildflowers that Moses Brown’s grandson donated to the City in 1866. The streams still flow, but instead of meandering at their own pace and nourishing the narrow valley, they race straight through the hard-lined waterway installed in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), surging during rainstorms.

Water engineers today recognize that nothing is simple where flowing water is concerned. Whereas earlier engineers tried to move stormwater out of settled areas as fast as possible, current experts (hydrologists) aspire to mimic nature, allowing water to penetrate the ground close to where it falls.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Environmental Management (DEM), BPC, and the city of Providence dredged York Pond, which had become an unsightly dump by the end of the 20th C, with welcome results. However, the dissipator, a concrete holding barrier installed at the back of the pond to capture street sand and trash was poorly built and improperly maintained, and the pond regressed toward its degraded state.

From idyll to dump for toxic waste to skating rink and back again, the pond’s history illustrates the dilemmas and opportunities confronting the city and the BPC as they seek to preserve and protect Blackstone Park for all to enjoy. With the help of state environmental agencies and Rhode Island scientists and engineers, the BPC has made real progress in the Blackstone Park Conservation District by working with adults and children to protect plants and soil from stormwater runoff and invasive plants. Grants from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) are particularly helpful in retaining soil on steep slopes.

The most formidable challenge in the Conservation District may be figuring out how to correct York Pond’s imbalances. This, the BPC hopes to do in future partnership with the Seekonk Riverbank Revitalization Alliance and all the city offices and agencies and non-profit groups who see value in protecting water bodies for recreation.

The opportunities for recreation and simple pleasure at York Pond are many. Even now, the historic pond remains a quiet spot for wonder–the “shower of white fire” made by the egrets in Mary Oliver’s poem–and inspiration. Easels perched at pond’s edge, books and notepads in the hands of readers, people simply relaxing on park benches nearby all attest to the influence of this water. And students of all ages learn from York Pond.

Here nature is resilient. And the job of the community led by the BPC is to boost that resilience. We do this with volunteers and your donations.

Jane Peterson

Join us this summer at the Blackstone Boulevard Trolley Shelter for four free concerts sponsored by the Blackstone Parks Conservancy.

Latin Jazz, with Wendy Klein, flutist. Salsa, salsa. Wednesday, July 26, 6:00 – 7:30 PM.

Tish Adams Quintet. Jazz, Blues and More. Wednesday August 9, 6:00 – 7:30 PM.

Nickel Jukebox.  Mostly Motown. Wednesday August 23, 6:00 – 7:30 PM.


Blackstone Boulevard Trolley Shelter, Blackstone Boulevard and Elmgrove Avenue, Providence, RI 02906.

Funded by Senate Legislative Grants and your Memberships.


Unfortunately, Jazz in the Park is cancelled.  We hope to see you at any of our forthcoming events, to be announced soon.


Take a trip through Early Jazz, Swing, Bebop, Latin Jazz, Cool Jazz, and Fusion, all played by a group of budding jazz musicians from the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School led by Wendy Klein. Bring chairs, blankets, snacks and drinks. Enjoy beautiful music in a beautiful setting! At Blackstone Field, across from the Narragansett Boat Club (2 River Road/aka River Drive, Providence, RI 02906).

Join volunteers from the Blackstone Parks Conservancy as we fix fences and work on trails. It’s a light workout, it’s fun, and we need your help!  Meet near the kiosk in the center section, by Parkside Road and East Orchard Avenue, Providence, RI 02906.


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.