Rhode Island now has its first national park

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — It took nearly 10 years, but now the Blackstone River Valley Historic Corridor, which stretches from parts of Providence up into Worcester, has officially been designated a national historic park with the help of Rhode Island’s Senior Sen. Jack Reed.

“What we did here, what our ancestors did here, literally shaped the nation for hundreds of years,” Reed told Eyewitness News.

Sen. Reed worked with the National Park Service and then-Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown in the push to make the area a federally-funded historical park. By the end of 2014, the Blackstone Valley National Historical Park was authorized. The park is a cultural, environmental and recreational sight to see.

“The excitement is palpable in all of the communities connected to the national historic park,” said Jennifer Smith, a park manager with the National Park Service in Rhode Island.

With an initial $900,000 in federal funding to get the park off the ground, Reed and the National Park Service say the money will be used to hire experts to establish park boundaries as well as staff the park at the visitor’s center in Pawtucket and in other communities such as Lincoln, where there is a park outpost.

After the federal money is gone, taxpayers will eventually foot the bill for the annual cost of operations.

“In a way, it might be analogous to roads and bridges,” Reed said of what he considered a taxpayer investment. “Do we put money in there? Yes, we do, because if we don’t our economic activity and our access are diminished.”

Reed hopes the revenue generated by tourism dollars will offset the taxpayer costs.

“Here, it’s a situation of maintaining our history, our culture and recreational opportunities that will provide economic benefits for the state,” he added.

In 2005, taxpayers pumped $2.6 billion into the National Park System, according to the US Department of the Interior. It was a solid investment, as the Department of the Interior brought in a return of $12 billion – more than four times what was put in.

Providence’s Roger Williams National Memorial – though not a park – is maintained by the National Park Service. Eyewitness News has learned that in 2010, 51,000 visitors brought in an estimated $3.1 million into the local economy, according to the Department of the Interior.

“The draw really is history and culture and again, that this is where it started and people love that,” said the Park Service’s Smith. “They love to be standing in the spot where a seed was germinated.”

So while it may not have the views of the Grand Canyon, the hope is that the history and scenery along the Blackstone River will draw even bigger revenue to the area.

Sen. Reed said there is no exact annual operating cost for the park just yet, with staff numbers and the park size still being worked out.

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