Today, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis traveled to Rhode Island with U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and members of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation to highlight the economic value of conserving parks, refuges, and other public lands and kickoff the celebration of National Trails Day (scheduled for Saturday, June 1st), which promotes the relationship between healthy parks and healthy people.
While in Rhode Island, Secretary Jewell joined members of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation for a tour of several parks, trails, and waterways and met with stakeholders to discuss the Obama Administration's conservation accomplishments and efforts to boost outdoor recreation. She also met with community leaders and National Park Service officials to discuss progress being made on creating a new national historical park unit within the Blackstone River Valley.
"Tourism and outdoor recreation are huge economic engines for local communities across the nation -- and that's certainly true for Rhode Island," Secretary 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."
Senator Reed, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior & Environment, is working on legislation to create a new, multi-site national historical park within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. In February, Reed reintroduced the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act (S. 371) to give park status to the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket and nearby mill towns, including Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland) in Rhode Island and Whitinsville and Hopedale in Massachusetts. On May 16, 2013, Reed's bill took a step forward and was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"I am pleased to have Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis here in Rhode Island," said Senator Reed. "As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, this area is a national treasure and includes thousands of acres of beautiful, undeveloped land, and waterways that are home to diverse wildlife. Turning this area into a national historical park is a smart way to preserve our nation's history and invest in Rhode Island's future. Designating this multi-site area as a national historical park has important economic, environmental, historical, cultural, and educational benefits for Rhode Island and the region."
"The Blackstone River Valley is the historic cradle of Rhode Island -- and American -- manufacturing, and a beautiful resource for our state," said Senator Whitehouse, a cosponsor of the bill to establish part of the area as a national historic park. "Securing a National Park designation will ensure that this historic corridor is preserved for future generations. Having Secretary Jewell here to see the area firsthand was an important part of that effort."
"It's an honor to welcome Secretary Jewell to our state. Rhode Islanders have a deep appreciation for our beautiful natural spaces, and preserving these sites is important to both our heritage and our economy," said U.S. Representative Jim Langevin. "My colleagues and I are grateful for the Secretary's support and look forward to working with her on many issues that impact the Ocean State."
"I'm honored to welcome Secretary Jewell to Rhode Island for this morning's tour of the Blackstone River Valley and to discuss the work that needs to be done in order to establish a new national park in the Blackstone Valley," said U.S. Representative David Cicilline. "Generations of Rhode Islanders have enjoyed the natural beauty of this space, as well as its rich history as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. I know that all of us are looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work in Washington to fight hard for this proposal."
"Every dollar invested in our parks and other public lands returns about $4 in economic growth," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "A new national park in Rhode Island would 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."
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.
If approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park likely would be run collaboratively through a special partnership that would allow the National Park Service to manage and operate the facilities and provide educational services in the park in partnership with regional and local preservation groups who would lead the efforts to preserve the surrounding rural and agriculture landscape within the existing corridor.
Over the years, Senator Reed has led the successful effort to keep the Corridor eligible for federal funding. This year, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor will receive approximately $575,000 in federal funding through the National Heritage Area program.
Last Congress, Senator Reed introduced the bipartisan National Heritage Area Authorizations Extension Act, which would have extended the authorization for several National Heritage Areas/Corridors (including Blackstone) through FY 2016.
According to the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, to date, more than $25 million has been spent on preserving historic buildings, creating museums, constructing visitor centers, and building permanent exhibits in the Heritage Corridor. Since 2002, Senator Reed helped secured over $11 million in federal funding for the Corridor and an additional $6.9 million for the Blackstone River Valley Bikeway.