12/03/2014 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to preserve an important piece of American history and invest in Rhode Island’s future, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, successfully attached two key public lands initiatives for Rhode Island to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which should be approved by both houses of Congress by next week. 

The bill includes Reed’s Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act to establish a new unit of the National Park System along the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.  The multi-site park will include areas of 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. 

“I am pleased we were able to reach a bipartisan agreement on a package of long-standing public lands bills, including two key Rhode Island public lands priorities.  The Blackstone Valley is a national treasure that deserves to be preserved.  It is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and includes thousands of acres of beautiful, undeveloped land, and waterways that are home to diverse wildlife, cultural sites, and numerous recreational opportunities for Rhode Islanders.  For years, I have led the effort to have the area recognized as a national historical park,” said Reed, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior & Environment, which oversees federal funding for the National Park Service.  “This is an important step toward permanently preserving nationally significant sites within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor as part of the National Park System.  This designation could help bring more visitors to Rhode Island and ensures the federal government will partner with the state and local communities to protect these resources.  I appreciate the efforts of Congressman Cicilline and all the members of the Rhode Island and Massachusetts delegations who supported this.”

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 brought multiple U.S. Secretaries of the Interior up to Rhode Island to see the proposed park area and the importance of preserving it.  He also led the successful effort to keep the Corridor eligible for federal funding.  Last year, Reed secured $650,000 in federal funding for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor through the National Heritage Area program.

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.

The NDAA bill also includes Senator Reed and Congressman Jim Langevin’s (D-RI) Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act to make federal restoration and conservation resources available to the Pawcatuck River, as well as other South County and Southeast Connecticut streams.

“The Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers are important to Rhode Island’s economy and environment and we must protect these natural resources.  I commend Congressman Langevin for his efforts to get this bill done.  This initiative could help develop a collaborative river management plan to address issues ranging from fish passages to the restoration of wetlands to assistance with flood mitigation,” said Reed.

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote first on the NDAA, followed by the U.S. Senate.  The bill could be sent to the President to be signed into law as early as next week.