This is an exciting year for the Blackstone River, marking the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the primary driver of our cleaner water today, as well as ZAP the Blackstone, the largest one-day regional environmental cleanup in U.S. history — when 10,000 volunteers removed 10,000 tons of debris from the river.
The Blackstone Watershed Collaborative was created at the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University to bring partners together and solve water quality and climate resilience challenges in the region, as identified in the recently published Blackstone Needs Assessment Report. Led by Stefanie Covino, M.S./ES&P ’15, the Collaborative combines the work of more than a hundred organizations that are focusing on achieving 20 action items to improve watershed health over the next five years. The goal is to acknowledge and celebrate the work done in the past and identify the work that remains to create a vibrant, resilient, and diverse future for the river.
Current challenges, including climate impacts, stormwater runoff, invasive species, equitable river access, and fish passage, require varied strategies to solve, but they also count on public support, active stewardship, and engaged decision-makers.
To bring attention to these challenges as well as the opportunities to work together to solve them, the Collaborative is organizing the Blackstone Commons Expedition — a 60-mile paddle, August 11 to 14, from the headwaters of the Blackstone in Worcester through its connection to the Seekonk River and on to the Narragansett Bay in Providence, Rhode Island. Each day will offer new perspectives, stops to discuss specific issues, and an opportunity to highlight the diverse voices and issues along the river.
The group will kick off the paddle with a press event at 9 a.m. at the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center (3 Paul Clancy Way, Worcester). Several speakers, including Massachusetts State Representatives Dan Donahue and Mary Keefe, Worcester Department of Public Works Commissioner Jay Fink, and Save the Bay Advocacy Director Topher Hamblett will discuss the challenges of climate change and impervious surfaces in flooding, the need for nature-based solutions, and how integrated water management can improve watershed conditions. Following the program, the group will launch their expedition, paddling from Worcester to Grafton.
The paddlers will make their way to Uxbridge, Massachusetts, for a free, family-friendly RiverFest from 3 to 7 p.m. at River Bend Farm Visitor Center (287 Oak St., Uxbridge), held in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The public is invited to this festival, which will feature food trucks, craft beer, live music, games, and interactive community activities to discuss access to the river. This event will draw attention to the issues facing the Blackstone River and provide ways to get involved with ongoing community initiatives, as well as an opportunity to recreate along this accessible stretch of river. From Uxbridge, the paddle will continue to Blackstone, Massachusetts.
On Saturday, the paddle will highlight water quality issues on the river. The group will meet in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, with representatives of the Blackstone River Coalition’s Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program, which collects and analyzes water samples from the river and its tributaries once a month. They will also meet with 18 wastewater treatment plant operators to paddle from Woonsocket to Manville, Rhode Island. The operators will paddle a portion of the river and discuss shared goals of promoting healthy water quality for people and wildlife.
The final day will begin with a discussion about aging dams and fish passage at Slater Mills (67 Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket) at 10 a.m. — after which the public is invited to join the last leg of the paddle from Pawtucket to Providence. Canoes will available on a first-come, first-served basis, or you can bring your own boat; sign up to participate on the last day by August 9. The expedition will conclude with a final celebration at Narragansett Brewing (271 Tockwotton St., Providence) at 4 p.m., including a screening of the short film “Kittacuck Speaks.”
At 4:30, a panel of invited speakers — including U.S. Senator Jack Reed, EPA Regional Administrator David Cash, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Terry Gray, and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program Executive Director Mike Gerel — will commemorate the expedition and set the stage for the work to come.
The Blackstone Watershed Collaborative is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, and Center for Large Landscape Conservation. Clark’s Academic Innovation Fund supports students’ learning through the program.
For more information, email Stefanie Covino or visit the Blackstone Watershed Collaborative online.