Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today joined Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline, and Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee to underscore the importance of tourism and outdoor recreation to local economies.
Secretary Jewell, Director Jarvis and members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation spent the morning touring parts of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor, an area that includes 24 cities and towns in a watershed stretching from the headwaters in Worcester, Mass. to Narragansett Bay in Providence, R.I..
During the visit, which included a kayak trip down a section of the Blackstone River, Jewell and Jarvis reaffirmed Interior's support of congressional efforts to establish a new, multi-state national historical park within the area to interpret the region's role in the Industrial Revolution and to provide additional outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors.
"Tourism and outdoor recreation are huge economic engines for local communities across the nation -- and that's certainly true for Rhode Island," Jewell said. "The Blackstone River Valley is a great confluence of history, culture and opportunities for outdoor activities. I enjoyed getting out on the water today to see firsthand how the river played an important role in the Industrial Revolution -- and continues to be the lifeblood of so many communities today."
The outdoor recreation economy in Rhode Island is estimated to generate $2.4 billion in consumer spending and 24,000 direct jobs, according to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association. Rhode Island's one national park, the Roger Williams National Memorial, had 52,000 visitors in 2012 with an estimated $3 million economic benefit to the state.
Created by an act of Congress in 1986, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor celebrates the area where the industrialization of America began with the first water-powered cotton mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, followed by the development of mill villages along the Blackstone River and its tributaries, spreading out across the valley in a pattern that can still be seen and experienced today.
Sen. Reed has introduced legislation to establish the park. The National Park Service completed a review in 2011 concluding that 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. The National Park Service testified in April before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks in support of Sen. Reed's legislation. Only Congress has the authority to establish a national park.
Director Jarvis pointed out that parks are a great investment for America, generating $30.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011.
"Every dollar invested in our parks and other public lands returns about $10 in economic growth," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "A new national park in the region could certainly attract many Americans who can trace their ancestry to those who lived and worked in the valley during that era, including the many immigrants who came to find a new life here."
During the kayak tour, Jewell reviewed progress of the Blackstone River Valley Greenway, a 48-mile water trail and bike trail project supported by a wide variety of partners. Approximately 20 miles of Greenway have been completed, with another 18 miles in planning or design. In addition, a network of more than 20 river access sites has been created to facilitate public access and recreational use.
The Greenway was recognized in 2012 by Interior as one of 51 key projects across the nation -- one in each state and the District of Columbia -- that serves as a model of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to create a 21st century conservation ethic and reconnect Americans to nature and outdoor recreation.