Blackstone Parks Conservancy

Vanishing York Pond, Part One: What Happened?

York Pond is just 1.75 acres, and thus easy to manage, or so one might think. But no. The little freshwater haven is silting up again less than two decades after a nearly half-million dollar rescue effort cleaned it out. What happened?

The solution devised to rescue the smelly morass at first seemed straightforward. City agencies, RIDEM, the EPA, and what would become the Blackstone Parks Conservancy planned to dredge the pond and to prevent the salt and sand spread on city streets every winter from washing into it from its 380-acre watershed. The trash carried down year-round by water would also be trapped.

At the pond end of the ravine which starts at Butler Avenue (where underground streams and stormwater feed into the pond’s mouth), federal funds would be used to build a concrete barrier–a dissipator–with two compartments, one to trap sand and the other to catch “floatables,” or trash. The Department of Public Works (DPW) would clean it out every month.

How the Solution Became a Problem

Unfortunately, the contractor failed to fulfill his contract as designed, though later he did partially fix the problem. But shortly after the barrier’s completion, surging stormwater carved a channel beside it, allowing some sand and trash to course straight through. Over time, the DPW rarely picked up what sand and trash the dissipator did trap. And soon the silt and floatables began spilling over into the pond—slowly, so that it was barely noticeable for several years.

The Beauty That Remains

Despite all the hitches, until a few years ago the rescue attempt appeared to be fairly successful. By 2005, with dozens of native plants installed at its edge by BPC volunteers, York Pond had become a lovely spot–and to some extent, it still is, despite the silt. People come seeking inspiration or simply to relax. Visitors paint or photograph or look for herons, ducks, turtles, osprey and red-tailed hawks, not to mention turtles and butterflies. This is a perfect spot to watch migratory birds.

York Pond is a valuable place to learn about stormwater, swamps, and Providence history, among other things. Schoolchildren still come to study the water and, if they’re lucky, they get to pull on waders and charge straight into the shallow water to capture samples.

Next month see Part Two: What Can Be Done?

Jane Peterson