North Smithfield signs agreement with National Park Service through 2021

North Smithfield signs agreement with National Park Service through 2021

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town has officially signed an agreement with the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service that will open Slatersville and the surrounding area up to the possibility of federal funding over the next five years, and will secure national help with the effort to preserve, protect and promote its historical value.

The 37-page cooperative agreement for the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park was passed unanimously by the Town Council last week following testimony in previous months from local officials who hope to further develop the newest park in the country’s system.

Legislation passed in December 2014 made the Blackstone Valley the 402nd National Park in the United States, and the only one that encompasses several sites across two states, rather than a single core property.

The four mill villages included in the legislation are Slatersville in North Smithfield; Ashton in Cumberland; Whitinsville, in Northbridge, Mass.; and Hopedale, Mass. Also considered part of the national park are the Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, Slater Mill in Pawtucket, the Blackstone River and its tributaries, and the Blackstone Canal.

The agreement, which will last through Sept. 30, 2021, acknowledges Slatersville’s special place among the Blackstone Valley’s historical properties noting the work of founder John Slater in the early 1800s.

“The area was largely undeveloped with only a handful of houses. So the Slaters and their partners developed a new mill village design that included houses churches schools and stores and supported all of the needs of their mill workers,” the document notes.

Many of those homes and properties still exist today, giving the historic village a prominent place in the new park, which will highlight the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Town Solicitor David Igliozzi said he looked through the agreement prior to its appearance before the council.

“The contract doesn’t obligate the town to any financial implications at all,” said Igliozzi. “The town can withdraw at any time.”

Igliozzi noted that the cooperative agreement does make the town eligible for grants, and that without it only small amounts of federal funding would be obtainable.

Jennifer Smith, a management assistant for the National Park Service working locally on behalf of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Park, agreed.

“This does open up a whole bunch of opportunities between the town and the National Park service,” Smith said.

NPS, Smith noted, will need to come back before the council on a task by task basis as decisions are made and money is spent. Federal guidelines dictate that every dollar of federal funds spent must be matched with one dollar from non-federal sources.

As part of the deal, NPS has agreed to assist the town in preservation efforts; offer expertise and resources for improvements, exhibits, literature and more; provide technical assistance and guidance to the town for major alterations and repairs for the associated area; include the town in literature and media content; support the work of the town’s Historic District Commission; and provide interpretation and education services regarding on applicable laws, regulations, NPS policies and the availability of funds, among other promises.

The town, in turn, has made several commitments, including a promise to exert its best effort to preserve, protect and interpret the national historical park; grant NPS the right of access to municipally owned or maintained areas; appoint a liaison to the NPS; provide for passive and active recreational opportunities within the boundary of the park on town-owned property and provide the needed matching funds.

The agreement was signed by Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton as well as Keith Zotti, awarding officer for the National Park Service.

Hamilton told The Breeze this week that she has already met with designers from NPS, who traveled to North Smithfield last week from California to go over signage plans. The signs, which will be consistent with other Naitonal Park signage, will inform visitors when they’re entering the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Park, and are expected to be installed within the next six months.

Additional signs telling the story of the village are expected to be erected in around 18 months. Neither, Hamilton said, are expected to have a fiscal impact on the town.

“Now that the designers have a better sense of what we’re looking for, they’re going to start to begin this process,” Hamilton said. “It was very interesting to see. These folks obviously have done it a lot.”

Discussions are also in the works on things like parking, and what can be done to encourage a resident to open a bed and breakfast.

“As a community we’re going to have a very important role in further developing the park,” Hamilton said. “It’s very exciting. It’s about how we see the future of the village.”