Ask people what draws them to the two Blackstone parks and you hear two answers. ‘Beauty’ is one. Second: ‘a way to escape the city and still be a part of it.’
One long tree-lined path punctuated cross streets wends its way up the 1.6-mile-long Boulevard. The Trolley Shelter, refurbished by the Blackstone Parks Conservancy, provides a backdrop for popular summer concerts. Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, this grassy park with its benches and gardens attracts thousands of walkers and runners of all ages.
The 45-acre conservation district beside the Seekonk River, on the other hand, is heavily wooded, with two ponds, many trails, and a few small grassy areas. The presence of water adds a special element. Some run in this park, but many more walk. Here, the Providence Parks Department and the Conservancy believe in minimal intervention so that nature may flourish. It serves as a kind of outdoor laboratory for lower school and university students and offers great potential for public education.
The Conservancy exists to support both parks, each with different needs. Years of volunteer work–from fund-raising and grant writing to planting, weeding, watering, and pruning (for your safety as well as for the trees’ health)–have brought the Boulevard to a point where little remains but maintenance. This is no small matter, but at least it is clear what needs to be done and little controversy is involved. In the Conservation District, however, it’s a challenge to puzzle out how best to fix trails, combat invasive plant species, and control erosion.
Judy Aaron, a recently retired librarian who has been running on the Boulevard nearly every morning for 25 years, can’t imagine life without this park. A transplanted New Yorker, she especially loves “the public nature of it….It’s very natural…tranquil, and safe.”
Judy sees many communities of runners who recognize each other. Long ago, when tree roots used to grow through the path, she would trip and go flying two or three times a year. And whenever she fell, four or five people would be there to help.
In addition to all the individual runners, a number of school teams use the boulevard to train. The Conservancy is working closely with the Parks Department to figure out how best to improve drainage in sections compacted by thousands and thousands of pounding feet.
The Conservation District
Sue Leeson, an artist who moved to Providence from New Jersey three years ago, goes to different parts of the Blackstone parks after work. “I need to breathe,” she says, “and breathing is better out there than it is in my apartment.” She enjoys the sense of community in both parks.
Sue chooses her destination depending on her situation or mood. “My husband likes the river—it’s a good place to have a partner or a friend,” says Sue. “When I go up the boulevard, I’m often by myself.” If she wants to really get away and be alone, she goes to the less-populated section south of Angell Street.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places,” says Sue, “and Providence is unique. I love it that we’re in an urban universe and I can find a place to walk in the woods—that’s very special.”
We need volunteers to help maintain the parks. Please consider joining a committee. And please keep those East Side Marketplace receipts coming.