6/06/2011 — 

PROVIDENCE, RI – White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley today joined U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Governor Lincoln Chafee, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, and local students to highlight the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which promotes land and water conservation and reconnecting more Americans with the outdoors, particularly by creating more opportunities for outdoor recreation in urban settings.

With the help of $3 million in federal funding and private foundations support to the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, and through a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local officials, Riverside Park has been transformed from a former Brownfield site into a thriving area that includes a park, playground, green space, bike path, and affordable housing.

During the tour of the park, Chair Sutley and Rhode Island officials joined local students and “River Rangers” from the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council for a series of outdoor classroom events, including canoe rides, water-quality monitoring, planting, and fish ladder education.  Sutley is visiting Rhode Island at the invitation of Senator Reed, the author of the proposed No Child Left Inside Act, which would free up critical funding to reconnect more kids with nature and strengthen environmental education in America's classrooms.

“Riverside Park is a success story that demonstrates how community action and Federal, state and local partnerships can transform a blighted site into a thriving green space and community resource,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  “It is exactly this kind of community-led action that the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative supports to empower Americans to protect and restore the places that matter most to them and promote the economic and physical health of our communities.”

“The environment is vital to our economy, and neighborhood parks like this one help connect more people to nature and their community. It is important to give kids a safe place to play and be able to explore their world," said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee who worked for years to secure federal funding to help turn Riverside Park around.  "Getting kids outdoors makes them healthier, and when you give kids a hands-on chance to learn about the environment it increases student achievement in other subjects too, like science and math.  I encourage all Rhode Islanders to get outside and take advantage of our incredible parks, bike trails, beaches, and other green spaces we have here.”

“Rhode Island is a state of unparalleled natural beauty,” Governor Chafee said.  “As a U.S. Senator, I authored brownfields legislation that brought millions of dollars in federal grants to Rhode Island to clean up sites across the state.  As Governor, I will continue to work to ensure not only that we protect and preserve Rhode Island, but that we encourage our state’s citizens – particularly our young people – to enjoy and learn from their natural surroundings.”

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council is a non-profit organization working to promote environmental, recreational, and cultural restoration and preservation in the Woonasquatucket River Watershed.

Getting kids outdoors has important educational and health benefits, and it can help boost the economy too.  A recent study by the National Recreation and Parks Association indicates that for every $1 million invested in parks and recreation infrastructure, at least 20 jobs are created. 

Members of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA), who are finalizing Rhode Island’s Environmental Literacy Plan (ELP), were also on hand.  Set to be unveiled later this month, the ELP will advance environmental education in Rhode Island classrooms and help give more students opportunities for hands-on, outdoor learning.  The ELP will put Rhode Island in a strong position to compete for future grant funding that would become available under Reed’s proposed No Child Left Inside Act.