Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers
Rhode Island, Massachusetts
The Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers flow through 26 communities with more than 1 million people before merging to flow into Providence Harbor, and then into the head of Narrangansett Bay. The region has been populated for more than 10,000 years. Descendants of the Nipmuc, Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes that inhabited the area at the time of the first white settlers still live there today.
Historic sites along the 46-mile-long Blackstone and the 14-mile-long Woonasquatucket tell the story of the region's transition from pristine forest to agriculture to early industry. Dozens of dams harnessed the river's power to fuel the factories that made the area a birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. The riverfront cities of Worcester and Providence are two of the three largest cities in New England.
Heavy industrial use of the rivers left a legacy of pollution and abandoned waterfronts. Recent cleanup and restoration efforts, however, have improved water quality and reclaimed historical areas and buildings. More than 5,000 buildings in the region are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and thousands more are eligible for listing.
Dams built along the rivers helped create marshes and wetlands, which have made the region a major flyway for migrating waterfowl. The watershed is home to more than 60 endangered and threatened species, including the blue-spotted salamander and the eastern box turtle, and its forests contain extensive old-growth stands.
Community Action Plan
The 26 communities along the rivers have undertaken a variety of efforts over the past two decades to improve water quality, restore historic districts, and revitalize local economies. Designation as an American Heritage River will help integrate ongoing and future activities, allowing the communities to pool resources and work in concert to realize their visions for the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers.
Jane B. Sherman, The Providence Plan, (401) 455-8880