Blackstone Parks Conservancy

What the Owl Sees

Perched in a tree in the Blackstone Park Conservation District one December afternoon, a feathery Barred Owl stares straight ahead, its dark-ringed brown eyes observing all. It has managed to fly high up to safety while dogs below are running and barking. Rabbits and chipmunks might not be so fortunate, though they do have other ways to escape.

Glimpses of wildlife in this quiet place beside the Seekonk River reveal but a fraction of the animals inhabiting this rare coastal woodland. Numerous species of birds and small mammals live here, noticed by few people. And they all matter. All are woven into a complex network of interdependent flora and fauna.

Months ago the owl might have spied two-wheeled creatures moving very fast below. Like the dog owners, the people on bikes didn’t know that either packing soil down or loosening it damages the park. It sounds contradictory.

Basically, packed down soil encourages rain to run off the surface instead of, as it ought to, soaking in where it falls. The repelled water moves faster and faster downhill with increasing force. And because this hilly park is essentially a pile of heavy sand, it is extremely vulnerable to erosion. In the intensive storms that are more frequently hitting Providence this runoff carries loosened soil to the sidewalk below and eventually to the river.

Probably no single visitor thinks in terms of many two- and four-legged creatures packing or loosening a small amount of dirt and thus multiplying a little damage to a significant amount. Or that stepping on a small plant matters. After all, the thousands of visits to this park don’t happen all at once.

Blackstone Park is as stable as it is because donors contribute money for planting and watering to the Blackstone Parks Conservancy, the volunteer steward of both Blackstone parks. In addition, dozens of volunteers in small groups organized by the Conservancy regularly repair trails and fences and replace dead plants, thus keeping this conservation district relatively intact. It is creative, satisfying work—good exercise for body and mind.

If you enjoy the woodland, please help care for it. Leave the bike outside. If you bring a dog, leash it or take it to the excellent Waterman Dog Park nearby. Engage with the Conservancy online or in person to share your thoughts, and come help replace wood chips or install signs during monthly work sessions.

Jane Peterson