WASHINGTON, DC – With the stroke of the President’s pen, Rhode Island is now home to America's newest national historical park. Yesterday, President Obama signed U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) legislation, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act, into law, creating a national historical park in the area that gave birth to America’s Industrial Revolution.
The multi-site park will encompass areas of the Blackstone River and Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, as well as significant sites in nearby mill towns, including Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland) in Rhode Island and Whitinsville and Hopedale in Massachusetts.
The President signed Reed’s measure as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Senator Reed, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, was instrumental in crafting.
Reed, who also serves as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior & Environment, wrote the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act (S. 371) to establish a new unit of the National Park System within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. The law also makes the corridor eligible for six more years of federal funding while organizers work on creating the new national historical park.
“The Blackstone Valley is a national treasure that is finally getting the recognition it deserves. It is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and this new park will help preserve the character and historical significance of the area and tell visitors about an important chapter in American history. Ultimately, we want it to be a place that enhances tourism, educational, environmental, and recreation opportunities, while preserving this unique piece of American history,” said Reed.
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. The corridor was twice reauthorized by Congress and renamed for John H. Chafee in 1999.
In 2005, Senator Reed pushed legislation authorizing the National Park Service to conduct a Special Resource Study (SRS) to evaluate the eligibility of resources in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor for possible inclusion in the national park system. The study process began in March 2007 in consultation with the Heritage Corridor Commission and its staff. In 2008, a team of academic scholars visited the region and offered recommendations. In June 2010, the National Park Service prepared preliminary study findings which laid out a variety of options.
In 2011, Jack Reed ascended to the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior & Environment, which oversees the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service. Federal support for the Corridor was expected to sunset in October 2011, at which point the area retains its National Heritage Corridor designation, but federal funding would end. However, Senator Reed was able to successfully extend the authorization to October 2012 in the final Fiscal Year 2011 continuing resolution signed into law in April; thus keeping the Corridor eligible for future federal funding. And over the years, Senator Reed has brought multiple U.S. Secretaries of the Interior up to Rhode Island to see firsthand the proposed park area and the importance of preserving the Blackstone River Valley.
“Designating this area as a national historical park and making it a permanent part of the National Park System is a fitting way to honor our industrial heritage and give Rhode Island the recognition it deserves in shaping our nation’s history,” said Reed. “This designation will help preserve key historical, cultural, and environmental resources for future generations. It will help educate people about our past and contribute to our economic future by supporting tourism and recreational opportunities.”
Now that the bill has been signed into law, the National Park Service will begin to lay the groundwork for developing a general management plan to guide long-term management of the park and determine the scope of its boundaries with the input of the states, local communities, and interested stakeholders. Congress must also appropriate federal funding for the park.
In a separate bill that recently passed Congress and was signed into law -- the 2015 Omnibus Appropriation Act -- Reed included $20.3 million in federal funding for national heritage areas, which ensures that the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor will receive $650,000 in FY 2015, instead of the cut proposed in the President’s budget request.
Reed says he expects the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park will be run collaboratively through a special partnership that would allow the National Park Service to manage and operate the facilities and provide educational services within the park in partnership with regional and local preservation groups who would continue to lead the efforts to preserve the surrounding rural and agriculture landscape within the existing corridor.
“This is a significant milestone in the process, but we still have more work to do. We want to continue to work in a collaborative nature and ensure public input every step of the way,” said Reed.
In 1872, Congress designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park. Today, the National Park System includes over 400 diverse units administered by the National Park Service, including 46 national historical parks.