A national park in sections of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor would be a great benefit in preserving and promoting the historic valley, say supporters. It would elevate areas in the valley to a status enjoyed by such places as Yellowstone National Park. But the creation of the park is up to Congress, and despite recent positive testimony before a Senate subcommittee, the fate of potentially millions of dollars for the valley lies in the hands of politicians.
Since 1965, the nation’s smallest state has had the country’s smallest national park, the 4.5-acre Roger Williams National Memorial on North Main Street, in Providence. Officials from all levels of government are hopeful that will change sometime soon, but there are no guarantees.
“Nothing is easy in this Congress. … This isn’t a slam dunk,” said Chip Unruh, spokesman for Sen. Jack Reed. “That [March 7] hearing helped generate momentum, but … no major national park legislation has passed this Congress. So this will be a very heavy lift,” he said following the Senate hearing by a subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Still, supporters are hopeful this is the year Congress will give its support.
“In its heyday this was the center of the United States, it was the center of commerce because of the industriousness and the innovation that took place here,” said Blackstone Valley Tourism Council President Robert Billington. “The heritage corridor has worked on this for 25 years and we’ve worked on it for 27 years. This would be the crowning jewel of our efforts.”
There are no specific estimates on the revenue expected to be generated by the proposed park, but according to a recent National Park Service study, the Roger Williams National Memorial brought in $3.33 million in revenue to the state in 2010. It was responsible for 51,559 visitors and supported 53 jobs.