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Sen. Reed’s bill brings National Historical Park to state

Committee has yet to choose specific sites for park that would tell industrial history

The Blackstone River Valley — a national heritage corridor for 28 years — has been designated a national historical park after President Obama signed Sen. Jack Reed’s, D-R.I., bill proposing the change in December.

No specific sites have been designated for the park, but the committee has pointed to “nodes along that route” that they hope to include, such as Slater Mill, Hopedale and others, said Charlene Perkins Cutler, executive director of the Blackstone River Valley Committee.

The National Park Service “wants to use the existing infrastructure that the national heritage corridor has put together to capture visitors and tell them something about the valley,” Cutler said. This will likely include the Pawtucket Visitor Center across from Slater Mill in Pawtucket, the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, River Bend Farm in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, and a new visitor center in Worcester, Massachusetts, that is under construction.

Though national heritage corridors are eligible for federal grants, they differ from national parks in that they are not federally owned or managed but rather are maintained by state and local governments. The legislation passed last month was the product of more than 10 years of hard work, Cutler said, adding that the committee “wanted to get parts of the national heritage corridor included as part of the National Park Service.” The new park will partner with the existing corridor to “tell the birth of American industrialization,” she added.

Reed first introduced a bill in 2005 authorizing the National Park Service to conduct a Special Resource Study to determine whether parts of the corridor were eligible to become part of the national park system, said Chip Unruh, Reed’s spokesperson.

The area became eligible for national historical park designation in 2008, and the process of achieving formal recognition was expedited when Reed became chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in 2011.

There were several obstacles along the way, including a series of moratoriums on public land bills, Unruh said. In 2011, federal support for the corridor was set to end, but Reed was able to extend it for an additional year with a continuing resolution. He brought several U.S. Secretaries of the Interior to the Ocean State to see the corridor and to convince them that it should be a national park.

An agreement was finally reached in 2014 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and Reed’s bill was passed into law.
Though the bill passed, Unruh and Cutler both said much work remains. It will be a long process that will “take some time and is going to require extreme patience,” Cutler said.

“Getting the bill signed into law is a significant milestone in the process, but there is still more work to do,” Unruh said.

The National Park Service is now responsible for devising a management plan over the next three years in order to determine “the scope of its boundaries with the input of the states, local communities and interested stakeholders,” Unruh added.

Public input in deciding the locales of the park was emphasized, Unruh said, adding that Reed “wants to continue to work collaboratively and ensure public input every step of the way as we get this park up and running.”

The corridor currently includes 24 towns — 13 in Massachusetts and 11 in Rhode Island — as well as a canal that runs from Worcester to Providence. This park will be nothing like Yellowstone or Yosemite with thousands of acres of open green space, Unruh said, adding “it’s not like we can take the entire corridor and turn it into the park.”

Current discussion of the park suggests that it will not be contiguous and will include multiple sites within Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Final site selection will be made by the Secretary of the Interior after soliciting public input. The management plan will have to state which publicly and privately owned land will become a part of the park, and the bill authorizes the Secretary to “establish agreements with the states or local governments, and to identify willing sellers of land and donators of land to include within the park boundary before and after the administrative park boundary is determined by the Secretary,” Unruh said.

Unruh estimates that over $20 million in federal appropriations will be necessary to get the park running, including $5 million for the National Park Service to acquire property interests, $6 million for the constructions of facilities and for the conduction of research and around $3 million for operating costs.

Reed hopes that the establishment of the park will enhance local tourism, create jobs and recreational activities and educate the public about Rhode Island’s rich industrial revolution history, Unruh said.

Though smaller in size than other national parks in the country, Cutler said she is confident it will draw crowds.


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