Grant will help create calming space at Sycamore Landing

Grant will help create calming space at Sycamore Landing

John Marsland, president of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, waters the plants that have already been placed in a new pollinator garden at the group’s headquarters, 100 New River Road in Lincoln, on June 19. A grant from the Rhode Island Foundation will help expand the garden and create a calming community space for residents to enjoy. (Breeze photos by Melanie Thibeault)

LINCOLN – A local environmental organization is hoping to create a community gathering space by the Blackstone River for residents to find peace and calm among nature.

The Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone has received a Rhode Island Foundation Community Grant, totaling $7,717, to create a peaceful community gathering spot that’s steps away from the Blackstone River, consisting of raised bed pollinator gardens, native shrubs and trees, and a comprehensive way to control invasive plants at its Environmental Center’s 12-acre property, located at 100 New River Road in Lincoln.

The goal is to “achieve a shared public space that will provide a natural and aesthetically tranquil connected space for community interaction,” according to the grant application.

The project is dubbed Operation Blue Mind, a concept that comes from a book by author Wallace J. Nichols who describes the calm and peaceful feeling that most people get from being by bodies of water as Blue Mind, as opposed to Red Mind, which is categorized by stress, anxiety, fear, and despair, John Marsland, president of the BRWC/FOB, explained.

“With the Blue Mind concept I think we can create a place where our community can heal from stress and anxiety,” Marsland said. “Part of the program is to get locals on the Blackstone River between Manville and Albion.”

Marsland said he’s sure many people are experiencing Red Mind right now with the ongoing pandemic.

The 12 acres are referred to as Sycamore Landing, which used to be a 150-year-old dump that volunteers have been cleaning up for several decades, The Breeze previously reported. The Blackstone River Bikeway goes by the site, and there are two trails, marked red and blue, that allow visitors to walk along the river.

While the area attracts bicyclists, walkers, runners, and paddlers who canoe and kayak from the shores of Sycamore Landing, Marsland said they want more folks to come out and enjoy the space. “There’s so much potential here,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here.” To attract more people to the site, the grant funds will go toward building a raised bed pollinator garden within a fenced in 30-foot-by-60-foot area located adjacent to the Education Center building. The garden will be filled with native plants that will attract pollinators, which improves local biodiversity and can be used for on-site educational purposes and community viewing, states the grant application.

Marsland said they plan to build four eight-foot-by-six-foot cedar boxes for the garden, which will also include a couple of memorial benches for people to sit and possibly a stone-dust walkway.

“We rely on pollinators like bees and butterflies to grow our flowers and our food, but the pollinator garden will do more than just enrich our environment,” Jenny Pereira, vice president of grant programs for the Rhode Island Foundation, said on why the grant was awarded to this project. “Amid the stress and anxiety of COVID-19, it has never been more important to provide outdoor spaces where people can benefit from the calming and health effects of spending time in nature.”

Last month Bonnie Combs, of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, and her husband, Chris, donated and installed a beehive on the property, not far from where the pollinator garden will be.

One of the group’s major goals has been to eradicate Japanese knotweed and other invasive plants that “is choking a large portion of (its) 12 acres and is also preventing natural floodplain grasses, shrubs and trees to thrive,” according to the application. Funds will also help continue to clear the knotweed, which Marsland says grows a foot a week, and will pay for the group to reseed the land with locally sourced native grasses and replant shrubs and trees, which will “improve upon and restore the marginal floodplain and upper habitat areas of the property.”

Some work is underway. The group has been managing knotweed and has begun planting some of the pollinator garden with donations from the URI Master Gardener program.

The grant will also fund future educational events, including some hosted by Nancy Brown-Garcia, the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s chief deputy historic preservation officer, Marsland said.

As a way to build community, the BRWC/FOB is partnering with several groups, including Girl Scout Troop 399 Manville, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the town of Lincoln, and the Heritage Corridor and VIP Program of the National Park Service. The organization will also consult with members of the Master Gardener program, Rhode Island Tree Council, and other experts.

Kristin Scribner, leader of Girl Scout Troop 399 Manville, said the 14 members of the troop, who range in age 11 to 18, have already helped maintain the grounds including removing some of the invasive knotweed and have plans to help with the pollinator garden and trail maintenance in the future. The goal, she agreed, is to “try to engage the community more.”

The BRWC/FOB is looking for volunteers to help with the project and ongoing site maintenance. Sign up at .

This beehive, installed at Sycamore Landing last month, is steps away from a new pollinator garden located adjacent to the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone’s Education Center, seen pictured.