Glide Into Fall on the Blackstone Valley Explorer

IMG_2993Summer may be drawing to a close, but good times on the water are not. The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council offers tours of the Blackstone River through October. Passengers can board the Blackstone Valley Explorer at Festival Pier in Pawtucket until September 10 or at Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket beginning on September 16 for a 45-minute narrated tour of our nation’s most industrial river, which is once again home to a an array of aquatic life.

The Nature & Heritage tours depart on Sundays at 1, 2 and 3pm and include the chance to see a variety of birds and fish, as well as the beautiful fall foliage. My family and I recently enjoyed this tour (in August, when the boat departs from East Providence and travels right over the ship graveyard just offshore from India Point Park and through the hurricane barrier into Providence before backtracking into East Providence ), and we were fortunate enough to spot a great egret, a great blue heron, a swan and a number of smaller birds. Binoculars and wildlife-identification guides were available to all passengers. One of the crew members also had a bucket IMG_2983onboard containing fish she had caught in the river earlier that day: a glass shrimp and a silver side fish, as well as an oyster shell. Not only did we learn about the various indigenous life forms in and along the Blackstone River, we learned the real reason for our local river’s distinction in history as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. According to our guide, the Blackstone River has a vertical drop-off of 430 feet, which is second in the United States only to Niagara Falls. This means that the water flows really fast, which made it the perfect place to build factories during the late 18th and 19th centuries. We also learned about the various industries that were supported by the Blackstone River in days gone by, namely textiles and jewelry. Sadly, there were times when the river was the same color as whatever dye the cloth mills were using on any given day. Fortunately, efforts to clean up the river were eventually successful, and it is once again home to a multitude of fish and waterfowl.

IMG_2985Captain Joseph Walkden greeted all of the passengers on our tour, and the crew was friendly and very willing to answer any questions that we had. Marina Flannery, coordinator of the riverboat tours for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, is very knowledgeable about the wildlife in and along the river, particularly its birds, and she made herself available to speak with me after our tour and answer several questions that I had about the role of the oil industry in our local port. As a mother, I was pleased that the children on board were required to wear lifejackets (which appeared to be new and clean), and that there was an optional wildlife scavenger hunt for anyone who wanted to participate.

The environmental tours depart on the first and third Saturday of each month at 10am and 11am and include the opportunity to interact with an underwater drone. This remotely operated device allows passengers visibility below the river’s surface and the chance to see a variety of organisms. The focus is on the river’s plants, animals, wetlands and recovery from pollution.

A tour on the Blackstone Valley Explorer is a lovely and relaxing way for the whole family to spend an hour on a sunny fall weekend in the Ocean State. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 401-724-2200 or on-site on a first come-first served basis. The office is open daily from 10am to 4pm.

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