Blackstone Parks Conservancy


Despite the longer days and the return of some birds to Blackstone Park, a leading “hot spot” in Rhode Island for bird watching even during winter according to Providence Parks Department expert April Alix, it isn’t yet spring in Providence. The volunteers of the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) begin to feel restless, but the parks are icy or muddy and it is necessary to wait. March is the month of waiting.

What are we waiting for besides spring? News about grant applications, for one thing. The Education Committee hopes for a small grant to help organize the Earth Day Celebration in late April. Meanwhile, the Park Committee is waiting to hear the results of an application for substantial assistance with another steep slope in the center section that is subject to heavy foot traffic.

If the grant for work in the Blackstone Park Conservation District comes through, the BPC will be able to continue its progress in stabilizing highly erodible slopes, improving trails, and restoring habitat. If not, we will try again next year.

We wait, too, for decisions about next moves on the Boulevard path. Here, landscape architect Colgate Searles and the Parks Department are selecting the best section for restoration, drawing on lessons learned from the small, difficult area restored in 2019. Proper drainage is key here, too, as the Boulevard also tilts, however subtly, downhill toward the Seekonk River.

Happily for the thousands of people who walk and run on the Boulevard path, the City Council has appropriated a sizable sum to help with restoration of another section, and the Parks Department has offered to contribute important preparatory work. Still, a matching grant is needed to for the sake of efficiency to enable tackling a sizeable section, and the BPC will be submitting an application soon.

Finally, we wait for completion of the first overall pruning on the Boulevard in many years, which is expected to finish in April.

Jane Peterson

A Sense of Place

I run a monthly nature experience at Blackstone Park Conservancy where I’ll have an information table and art activity that extends into a way to explore the park.  We’ve explored insects, spiders, broadleaf trees, and winter birds, among others. It’s an outdoor program, so weather is always a concern. So it was no surprise when rain forced us to reschedule the January event two weeks later. Of course, two weeks later, it was 17 degrees.
Our theme that month was cones and conifers. I was well-prepared with samples of cones from many types of evergreen, from Douglas fir to white pine. There were clip boards with infographics I had put together making it easy to type different conifer families. I even had information on the Wollemi pine, or “dinosaur tree”, that had been saved from the Australian fires.  But it was 17 degrees. And no one came.
The only other person out there was Harold. He comes regularly to tend to the ducks.  There’s a raft of about 40 mallards that flock to him when his car pulls up. These ducks know Harold. And Harold knows them. Not only does he feed them, but he knows many of their back-stories. Some he’s released from fishing line. He’s seen two hit by a car and was only able to save one. He knows how another got its scars.  Blackstone Park is a very popular place for bird watchers, and Harold can identify many of the waterbirds that visit. He’s more than just a visitor, though.  He is a steward.
The following month I did not advertise well as it was February and I expected more inclement weather or cold. But I was there as faithfully as ever, setting up my table with a table cloth and new clipboards. No more taping pictures down!  Remarkably, it was in the mid-forties that day. And people started to come…
People of all ages showed up! First, an older couple waiting for their grand-kids. Then families, other couples, a single woman. I invited them to explore the moss and lichen I had collected. We discussed symbiotic relationships, climate change, biomimicry…  How moss can insulate buildings and and certain lichens are used in medicines, dyes, and other industries.  Kids ran off with magnifying lenses to find their own. We looked at samples under a microscope and learned about the radical survival skills of tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets.
Twenty two visitors in all took time in their day to learn about nature and how we can work WITH it, be part of the interconnected web.  Do you have a lot of lichen on your trees?  Maybe even the shrubby kind?  The more the merrier! Many are sensitive to pollution, so if you see a lot, that indicates cleaner air.
And it’s not hurting your tree. Lichen is just a relationship between a fungus and algae and cyanobacteria.  They work together to make a home and food.  Similarly, we wouldn’t be able to live without the help of mitochondria in our cells. Perhaps by studying nature, we’ll find more ways to work together.
Join us on Saturday, March 7th from 10 to 11:30 am when we learn all about frogs and toads!  You can download our lichen activity here.
Melissa Guilltet

Birding events kick off

Our 2020 birding events kicked off on February 16 with the annual Winter Duck Walk.  Led again by expert birder Dan Berard, over 70 people turned out to spot cool winter-only ducks (e.g. buffleheads) and equally cool year-round birds (e.g. a bald eagle).  Even faraway birds were visible thanks to generously shared powerful binoculars and a telescope.  After the walk along the Seekonk, people returned to the boathouse to talk about birds over a cup of hot cocoa and, at least for some of the younger birders, to collect a special coloring book featuring winter ducks.

Hockey Pond at Blackstone Park

The Blackstone Parks Conservancy. Virtually everyone stumbles over that ‘s’, but no one has found another way to say that the (BPC) cares for two Blackstone parks: a 1.6-mile-long arboretum of sorts with a walking and running path between two roadways; and a 45-acre semi-wild park beside the Seekonk River. Both are loved for distinct qualities and require different care.

Having limited resources means that money and volunteer and Parks Department time spent on the two parks vary from year to year and sometimes it seems like a seesaw. But it’s fair to say that the Conservancy gives them equal attention, depending mainly on grants for major projects. What follows is only a very rough estimate of how BPC attentions are divided.

The Boulevard – Early in this millennium, the BPC raised funds to reroof the Trolley Shelter and, later, the small shelter. Donations later paid for the first all-over pruning of the Boulevard Park.

Annual expenditures on the Boulevard include money for new trees (over 300) and their watering and mulching. Many benches were paid for with donations as well. Then there are the annual concerts free to the public, which cost about $6,000 each year.

Professional analysis of the crumbling path and donated funds for a restored experimental section in 2019 reached nearly $100,000. Many more thousands will need to be raised in order to bring the path up to an acceptable standard.

The Blackstone Park Conservation District–less visible than the Boulevard–received a large infusion in 2012, when a federal grant enabled volunteers working with the RI Natural History Society to reclaim a three-acre section on Angell Street from Asiatic bittersweet and replant it with native species. Volunteers have painstakingly tended it since then.

Much volunteer work is at a professional level and it’s hard to estimate its value in terms of dollars. The BPC attempts to do so but inevitably falls short.

The second major infusion to Blackstone Park came mid-decade with grants from Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council to tackle the badly worn five-acre plateau in the center section by rebuilding trails and planting in the highly erodible understory.

Wear and tear and erosion continue in both parks. The challenge in 2020, as always, will be to work smarter for Healthy Urban Green Space for All.

Jane Peterson