PAWTUCKET, RI – After years of hard work to establish a new national historical park in the Blackstone River Valley, U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act was signed into law last month. Senator Reed says the bill signing was a significant milestone, but more work remains.
Today, Senator Reed and National Park Service officials gathered at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, across the street from Slater Mill, to convene a meeting with state officials, community representatives, and interested stakeholders to begin laying the groundwork for determining the scope of the park’s boundaries and developing a long-term park management plan.
“People are very excited about the new park and the prospect of sharing the Blackstone’s rich history and natural beauty with a wider audience. Creating this national historical park is going to help preserve an important piece of American history while enhancing tourism, educational, environmental, and recreation opportunities,” said Reed, who wrote the law establishing the park. “We’ve worked long and hard to get this designation and recognition for the park. Now we have to work together to hammer out some of the critical details, such as the scope of the park, boundaries, and other key details.”
The new national historical park will ultimately consist of multiple, non-contiguous sites within the existing Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. The multi-site park will likely include areas of the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket and nearby mill towns, including Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland) in Rhode Island and Whitinsville and Hopedale in Massachusetts.
After extensive public input and collaboration between the National Park Service, governmental and non-profit partners, and willing sellers and donors of private land, the park’s administrative boundaries will be determined by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Reed’s law also says that the park’s management plan shall consider ways to use preexisting or planned visitor facilities and recreational opportunities developed in the National Heritage Corridor.
Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, noted that Congress must also appropriate additional federal funding to support the park, including approximately $11 million to allow the National Park Service to acquire property interests, construct facilities, rehabilitate sites, and conduct research to evaluate the park’s management needs.
Senator Reed says he hopes to bring Interior Secretary Sally Jewell back to Rhode Island later this year for another firsthand look at the area and a discussion on the best path forward. Secretary Jewell last travelled to the Ocean State to visit the proposed park in May of 2013.
Reed was joined at the meeting by the National Park Service’s Meghan Kish, who has been selected as the Superintendent of the new park. Kish also leads the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence.