The Hummel Report: Improved Water Access

hummel1Providence 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.

“That’s because it was commercial waterfront, and not residential waterfront,’’ said Rick Richards, who heads up the Seekonk Riverbank Revitalization Alliance, which includes several groups looking to improve public access along a hidden jewel of land just north of the Henderson Bridge. “We run events and we ask people who come, ‘Have you ever been here before?’ And usually at least half the people say, ‘No I’ve never heard of this.’’’

hummel3Several 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 done on nearby York Pond. “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,’’ Richards said. “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.
“They had a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of insight as to what you could do there, regarding habitat restoration and public access,’’ said Kevin Cute, a marine resources specialist for the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council, which controls everything that goes on within 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.

hummel2And that plan calls for both permanent and transient boat moorings in several places,  including India Point Park and the upper part of the Providence River near the Manchester Street Power Station. If approved, there also will 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.

“During the harbor management planning process, we require not just mooring management, but we use the process as an opportunity to work with the municipality and try to identify new public access opportunities,’’ Cute said.

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. One Sunday we saw a group gather for a 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. “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 to 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 sewer overflow project, this wasn’t water you’d want to be near anyway.

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

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can email Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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