Blackstone Parks Conservancy

It was a snow-covered, yet warm December morning.  Mallard ducks gathered en masse, waiting for the human tender who fed them.  The soft rustle of leaves revealed a mourning dove searching for seeds. People will gloves and cameras searched the woods and water for birds.

At the monthly Art in the Park, we had a station to make a cardinal collage and simple bird feeder. While the adults and I traded bird stories and discussed the impacts of climate change on bird migration, a family with a young boy approached. He was eager to do the craft, and excitedly cut out a bird bath and red “raindrop” shape to start his cardinal. He added his details with oil pastels and said it was the best art he ever made!  The family made two tube seed feeders and decided to explore the trails to see what birds they might find. I don’t know what they saw, but that one mourning dove I had sighted had multiplied into 14, roosting in a tree across the street. I heard another bird sing. I went to find it and discovered a tiny sparrow. I was about to leave, but something made me look up. There, on a low branch, sat a red tailed hawk, shifting her feet into her feathers to warm them while calmly surveying the site. We watched each other for a while. I did not have a camera. I can’t wait to return!

Autumn in Providence

Like a showgirl reluctant to leave the stage, autumn in Providence must be noticed: apricot, scarlet, deep purple and yellow to golden to orange to bronze, some edged with green. We can hold on to the memory of the astonishing trees in our parks, yards, and streets through the long winter nights.

November was the last best opportunity for Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers to work outside in 2019, and to begin toting up all projects this year and see what they had come to.

Some projects were more visible than others. The six trees planted in Blackstone Field on River Road, for example, resulted from considerable planning to accommodate the different needs of both the BPC Education Committee for their events and the Narragansett Boat Club for their regattas. The red maples and the hackberry are thriving, but two of those trees, Prairie Fire crabapples, bear watching next spring given signs of stress.

The Education Committee led by Rick Richards is seeing if an extra river ride could be combined with a winter duck walk, both popular events. This small committee perfected the art of doing a lot with few volunteers but could accomplish more with more help.

Carrie Drake’s Park Committee held one last Park-Keeping session before the onset of mud season. Following on the heels of volunteer trail work in October, Moses Brown freshmen spread wood chips to keep the heavily used trails from compacting too much and allowing runoff. Visitors now enjoy the ease and safety brought to the York Pond steps by a new railing.

With encouragement by neighbors and the BPC, the northernmost section of Blackstone Park Conservation District, on Loring Avenue, received a long awaited pruning in October. City Forester Doug Still reports that pruning city trees with a newly organized team of climbers will continue into April, including much needed attention to the Boulevard.

On the Boulevard – Heartened by the public reaction to the new path section, the BPC board now turns to figuring out how to fund more of the worst segments. Deming Sherman reported that eight trees funded by BPC donors had been successfully planted by Groundwork Providence.

Thank you to all who are responding generously to our fall appeal. We depend on you.

Jane Peterson

Veterans Day Moonrise. Credit: Jim Hendrickson

Our 2019 Moonrise Celebration on November 11, Veterans Day, was a great party with just one glitch—no moon! Well, hardly any moon. Finally–after the crowd practice- gazed at clouds with a telescope brought by the SkyScrapers and a super-sized pair of binoculars from a Narragansett Boat Club member–the star of the event appeared, to great cheers…for about 30 seconds.

While waiting for the moonrise, more than 30 kids and adults chatted in the unseasonably warm weather, sipped cocoa, watched rowing teams speed along the river, and played in Blackstone Field.

It was hard to be disappointed with this mellow outdoor evening, especially considering the wintery weather that arrived the next day.

Silver Shovel

And the Silver Shovel Award goes to….. the Park-Keepers!   At a special weekend drop-in work session on Saturday, October 19, we adjusted and installed steps and water bars along a particularly erosion-prone part of the trail.  Thanks to all who showed up and dug deep on this lovely day.

Our next Park-keeping event is on Sunday, November 10th at 10:30 am. We are going to work again in the center section, spreading wood chips and readying trails for mud season. We will meet at the Blackstone Park kiosk (Parkside Rd. & E. Orchard Av., Providence, RI 02906)

A recent stroll around the five-plus-acre plateau of Blackstone Park overlooking the Seekonk River revealed a woodland far healthier and greener than it was, say, five years ago. Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers are accustomed to looking for the problems–the dying plants and worn patches–to see what needs to be tackled next. But these moments among trees tinged with autumn yellow inspired thoughts of how much has changed for the better.

Decisions, Decisions!

How do you manage the unmanageable? Where to begin in an eroding park that, as a visiting forester once observed, was being “loved to death” by visitors and besieged by intensifying storms and invasive plants?

With Parks Department support, the BPC decided to encourage natural processes between the trails—falling trees and limbs would be left to decompose. To keep as much topsoil in place as possible we would discourage runoff—with water bars shunting water off to the side of trails–and protect more plants.

In figuring out how best to outpace challenges, mistakes were sometimes made—early on, tightly placed logs lining trails were channeling torrents of water instead of allowing it to seep away through gaps. But with the help of scientists like Stephen Hamburg and Hope Leeson and a stormwater expert on our Park Committee, volunteers soon learned what was necessary and possible.

Greening Up

Each swath of green grass and wildflowers where not long ago there was bare dirt, each walkable trail that had been a gully came about with the help of many school children and teachers, ecologists, environmental agencies, the Parks Department, and groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club. And Mother Nature of course.

The lush green edge at Parkside Avenue, formerly a muddy patch where runoff and erosion prevailed, exists today because experienced trail tender Don Cordner promoted not mowing that stretch in order to allow sparse grass to reseed. Don and his cohorts achieved a lot with little money and few volunteers, tirelessly plying wheelbarrows filled with wood chips, and installing coir logs and water bars to stem the washouts and encourage new growth.

If you’d like to join the BPC in protecting the Park, attend a monthly ParkKeeping session led by Park Committee Chair Carrie Drake.

Stay tuned for columns about more Park heroes.

Jane Peterson