WORCESTER, MA – U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today was recognized by the Blackstone Canal District Alliance for his lead role in establishing the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park as part of the U.S. National Park system.  Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty presented Reed with the “key to the city” alongside Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) at the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Centre.

Reed successfully included his Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act in the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and was instrumental in getting it passed, setting in motion the next steps in the official process to create a national historical park in the Blackstone River Valley.

“I’d like to thank Mayor Petty and the Blackstone Canal District Alliance for this honor and for their continued partnership as we work together to make the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park a reality.  We have a shared history and a shared desire to preserve the Blackstone River Valley, bring greater recognition to the area’s unique history, and create new opportunities for tourism, education, and recreation,” said Senator Reed.  “I am grateful for Congressman McGovern’s outstanding leadership and support in this effort.  We still have a lot of work to do, but I know that the people of Rhode Island and Massachusetts will work together to ensure we have a first rate park.”

The Blackstone Canal District Alliance was established in 2003 as a nonprofit community organization committed to the economic growth of the Canal district and Worcester as a whole.  Reed was honored today with Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), who cosponsored Reed’s Blackstone legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Together at the meeting, the leaders explained their inspiration for creating the first national historical park in the region, and discussed the path forward.

Once finalized, the multi-site Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park will become Rhode Island’s first national historical park, encompassing areas of the Blackstone River and Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket as well as significant sites in nearby Rhode Island mill towns, including Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland), as well as parts of Worcester, Whitinsville, and Hopedale in Massachusetts.

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 Blackstone River Valley National 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 that laid out a variety of options.

In 2011, Senator 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 and was instrumental in extending federal support for the Corridor when it was scheduled to sunset.  Over the years, Senator Reed has also 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.

Earlier this year, Senator Reed and National Park Service officials convened a meeting at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, across the street from Slater Mill, with state officials, community representatives, and interested stakeholders to begin laying the groundwork for determining the scope of the park’s boundaries and developing a long-term park management plan.

After extensive public input and collaboration between the National Park Service, governmental and non-profit partners, and willing sellers and donors of private land, the park’s administrative boundaries will be determined by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.  Reed’s law also says that the park’s management plan shall consider ways to use preexisting or planned visitor facilities and recreational opportunities developed in the existing National Heritage Corridor.

With the National Park Service approaching its Centennial in 2016, Reed announced that Rhode Island will receive $8,000 in federal funding to support a new National Park Jr. Ranger and Outreach Program within the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.  The federal funds, which will help improve visitor services and support outreach to new audiences, will be matched by a $10,000 contribution from Blackstone, Inc., the Corridor’s non-profit organization, to help inspire the next generation of conservationists and preservationists.