The Hummel Report

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Getting There

Providence is a city surrounded - and divided by - water. But if you actually want to get to the water, for boating or fishing or kayaking - or maybe to take a long walk, there is only a handful of places to go. A coalition of groups, in cooperation with the state agency that regulates Rhode Island’s waters, is trying to change that.

 

To see more of the Seekonk Riverbank Revitalization Alliance's vision click here.

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Providence is a city surrounded - and divided by - water.

But if you actually want to get to the water, for boating or fishing or kayaking - or maybe to take a long walk, there are only a handful of places to go. You have the popular India Point Park along Route 195, and the lesser known Collier Point Park along the western side of the upper Providence River.

Beyond that, it’s slim pickin’s.

Richards: ``That’s because it was commercial waterfront, and not residential waterfront.’’

Rick Richards heads up the Seekonk Riverbank Revitalization Alliance, which includes several groups looking to improve public access along this hidden jewel just north of the Henderson Bridge.

Richards: ``We run events and people come and we ask: `Have you ever been here before?’ And usually at least half the people say no I’ve never heard of this.’’

Several years ago, River Road, which  runs along the banks of the Seekonk River and is home to the Narragansett Boat Club was shut down while work was being done on nearby York Pond.

Richards: ``People started using the road, families would come down and use it to teach little kids to bicycle and bird watchers would be all over the place. So it created an entirely different environment. It was a park.’’

That experience has evolved into a years-in-the-making proposal for a recreation area with improved access to the water, but also a larger vision for other waterfront areas in the city.

Cute: ``They had a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of insight as to what you could do there, regarding habitat restoration, public access.’’

Enter Kevin Cute, a marine resources specialist for the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council, which controls everything that goes on with 200 feet of Rhode Island’s waters. Richards’ group knew it would need to bring CRMC on board if it wanted to make any changes. And while the agency has been working with the neighborhood group, it’s also been working with Providence officials to develop the city’s first Harbor Management Plan.

And that plan calls for both permanent and transient boat moorings in several places: including India Point Park and in the upper part of the Providence River itself  near the Manchester Street Power Station. If approved, there will also be moorings near the Gano Street Boat Launch, one of three CRMC public access points in the city. The boat launch was installed just last summer and is a key entry point to the Seekonk River from the East Side.

Cute: ``During the harbor management planning process what we require is not just mooring management, but we use the harbor management planning process as an opportunity to work with the municipality and try to identify news public access opportunities.’’

And that’s where Richards’ group comes in.  He says the alliance would like to see River Road narrowed, which would help slow down vehicle traffic and allow for more pedestrians and bicyclists. On Sunday we saw group gather for duck watch along the banks of the river, organized by the Blackstone Parks Conservancy, a group in the alliance.

Another development that has flown largely under the public’s radar is a planned bike path extension north from the Washington Bridge Linear Park, which was opened last summer. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is creating another link between the East Bay Bike Path and the Blackstone River Bikeway that will run parallel to Gano Street along the Seekonk River. DOT hopes to advertise for the project this summer.

When completed, the $1.3 million project will run nearly three-quarters of a mile from Gano to Waterman. Richards would like to see it extended up to Pawtucket.

Richards: ``This is all part of one vision. You can think of a park that goes from all of the way up north here in Pawtucket even, all the way to Fox Point, with continuous access or vision of the water.’’

The other thing that has changed dramatically over the past decade is the quality of the water itself.  Truth be told, before the Narragansett Bay Commission began a three-phase combined storm water overflow project, this wasn’t water you’d want to be near anyway.

Richards: ``This is not easy for people to reach the water. It was built up as a commercial waterfront. And now that we’re sort of in the post-industrial age, it’s deserted, basically. So we can reclaim it for people to use.’’

Hummel: ``What do you envision on a warm summer July day as you look down the road?’’

Richards: ``Well, I’d love to see bicyclists coming through here, this would be the final link between the East Bay bike path and the Blackstone bike path that goes all the way up through Pawtucket. So I’d like to see bicyclists going through here, I’d like to see pedestrians wandering through here, I’d like to see bird watchers I’d like to see canoeists, kayakers launching from here.’’

Richards says his group will need city approval for any change to the roads, but will be look to state and federal grants to help fund the vision.

Richards: ``I’m pretty optimistic, but I don’t think we’re going to look to the city for a lot of money. We know the city doesn’t have a lot of money. A  lot of this is environmental. It’s restoration of green spaces, it’s storm water runoff and there’s a lot of concern about that at this point at the federal and state level. And some of it is the Department of Transportation. So there are possible sources of money at the state and the federal level as well.’’

Kevin Cute says access to the water is a constitutional right that everyone in the Rhode Island can stake a claim to.

Cute: ``All of the citizens of Rhode Island have a legal claim to all of the state’s coastal waters, the submerged lands below and to the shore below the mean high tide line. This is a common property interest. All citizens have an equal right and legal interest in this, just as you own your own property where you live, the public has that same kind of right to all of this.’’

Richards hopes the vision will become a reality in the next several years. As for the people living in the neighborhood nearby who may worry about the improvements? He’s heard that concern too.

Richards: ``They like this is their private area, but it’s too important, it’s too beautiful to be that way, it’s got to be part of the whole public domain. And I think that that’s something people will be okay with if it’s done carefully, it’s done well. I would think a beautiful park down here would actually raise land values in the immediate area and I think they will see that as time goes by.’’

In Providence, Jim Hummel For The Hummel Report.