U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined Governor Lincoln Chafee and U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse for a visit to the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor where they met with community leaders and National Park Service officials to discuss progress made on creating a new National Park Unit within the Blackstone River Valley. During the visit, Salazar highlighted the economic value of conserving parks, refuges and other public lands.
"The seeds of the Industrial Revolution were planted here in the fields of the Blackstone River Valley," said Secretary Salazar. "The important stories of the men and women whose labor powered this pivotal era in our history should continue to be preserved and shared with future generations. I look forward to hearing more from members of the community and stakeholders regarding interest in having this unique area join the National Park Service family."
"The Blackstone River Valley is one of our state's most cherished assets," said Governor Chafee. "The region played a crucial role in the transformation of the United States from an agricultural to an industrial nation, and its historical sites, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty are a source of pride for all Rhode Islanders. I look forward to continuing the collaboration between the state, Secretary Salazar, the Congressional delegation, and the communities within the corridor to establish a national park that recognizes the area as a national treasure."
"I am honored to have Secretary Salazar here to directly experience some of the unique national treasurers we have right here in the Blackstone Valley," said Senator Reed. "Creating a national historical park within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor could help boost tourism and economic development in the region and preserve and protect these valuable natural and cultural resources for future generations of Americans.
"The Blackstone Valley is a national treasure -- the cradle of our American industrial revolution and the lifeblood of our Rhode Island economy for generations," said Senator Whitehouse. "Designating a national park in this area will celebrate our industrial past and bring new tourist dollars into our economy. I thank Secretary Salazar for joining us today to acknowledge the historic significance of the Blackstone River Valley, and I look forward to working with him and Senator Reed to achieve our goal of a national park."
"Now is an especially fitting time to remember the historical significance of this corridor -- where America's Industrial Revolution was ushered into existence. It is so very important that we recall the proud history of manufacturing in this region, to serve as a reminder of where Rhode Island's and America's ingenuity took our nation's economy in the past, and where it will continue to carry us in the future," said Congressman Cicilline. "Once the final report is transmitted to Congress, I look forward to introducing legislation in the House that will create the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park. Designation as a national historical park will ensure the protection and promotion of this vital historical, environmental, and educational resource."
Salazar noted that the nation's 394 national parks welcomed more than 281 million visitors last year who spent nearly $12 billion and supported 247,000 jobs. Rhode Island's one national park, Roger Williams National Memorial, attracted 51,000 visitors and infused an estimated $3.1 million into the local economy.
"Every dollar invested in our parks and other public lands returns $4 in economic growth," added Salazar. "A new national park within the Blackstone Valley could translate into jobs and a new economic engine for local communities."
The National Park Service recently completed a Special Resource Study (SRS) to review whether portions of Blackstone River Valley that contain historical and cultural value would be eligible for potential inclusion as a unit of the National Park System. According to the study, if the preferred alternative is established, the Blackstone Valley National park would involve a one-time $6.1 million expenditure for construction and rehabilitation at four locations, research, planning and development of exhibits. The park would have a $3.5 million annual operating cost.
As part of the decision-making process, the National Park Service is currently accepting public comment and engaging with members of the local community -- including through public meetings - to receive input on the study's findings. The final report will be submitted to Congress, who has the ultimate authority to designate a national park unit.
Designated as a National Heritage Corridor in 1986 by Congress, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor links twenty-four communities along the Blackstone River from Providence, Rhode Island to Worcester, Massachusetts. Known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, Blackstone River Valley was the site of the first operational water mill in the country. The success of the water mill in 1790 paved the way for other mill villages to sprout up throughout New England and contribute to industrialization.