On Giving Back
A reward for showing up to work at the Blackstone Parks Conservancy’s (BPC) evening ParkKeeping sessions – aside from getting a light workout in beautiful surroundings – is the satisfaction that comes from “giving back.”
ParkKeeping enables people who enjoy visiting the Blackstone Park Conservation District overlooking the Seekonk River to participate in the larger BPC projects by contributing to essential maintenance. Because the Park sits atop sand, it is particularly vulnerable to erosion. A neighboring bluff on the Butler Campus just to the north actually collapsed in the early 1990s.
How to Keep the Park Up
The challenge of maintaining the Park boils down to 1. Keeping topsoil from eroding—literally sliding off the hill– and 2. Dislodging invasive plant species. All this work, done by volunteers with help from the BPC’s key partner, the Providence Parks Department, and environmental agencies, helps protect not only the birds and other wildlife that live in the conservation area but also the trees that make this place so desirable to visitors.
ParkKeeping sessions are open to all ages. The one on August 2nd included Brown junior Mollie Koval, who is studying materials engineering and welcomed the chance to be outdoors, and BPC Board member Anthony Hollingshead. They spread woodchips, which will soon decay, softening the hard-packed soil so that rain can penetrate close to where it falls instead of washing dirt down to Angell Street or River Road.
In a park as heavily used as this one, it isn’t easy to keep soil in place. The Conservancy keeps trying new methods to see what works best.
The most recent BPC project centered on a popular area above and beside the old stairway leading down to York Pond from the north bluff in the center section. It’s to this point that Providence residents have been coming for centuries to breath the air and catch the view across the river.
The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) this year funded a new BPC attempt to stem erosion by the steps that looks somewhat more promising than past efforts. This time leaves were placed on the steep slope and covered with bio-degradable jute stapled to the ground and anchored by large rocks here and there.
The first signs of success appeared in just two weeks as mushrooms popped up. BPC Park Committee members who had designed the project were delighted as the fungi signaled the creation of the hoped for fungal community that would help build up the poor soil. New plants at the top will be put in this fall to supplement the viburnums and carex installed in recent years.
With this project as with all the trail and erosion control work done in recent years, BPC volunteers watch to see the outcome. Did the intervention work? How long did it hold up? Which methods worked best? Which plants thrived and which ones didn’t? Always there are surprises and disappointments. With this project beside the York Pond stairs, so far so good.