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18 de setembre de 2011

Could the Blackstone Valley become a national historic park?

BRIAN BENSON

Metrowest Daily News (Estats Units) [Cr˛nica]

It may not be as well known as historic sites in Boston or Lexington and Concord, but supporters of a proposal to create a national historical park in the Blackstone Valley said the region played a critical role in the country's industrialization.

"This area is rich in historical firsts and many things that none of us know about or very few of us know about," said Hopedale Selectman Robert Burns, who hopes creating the national park brings the history of Hopedale's utopian colony and Draper mill to residents and visitors. "When you speak to local historians, you find out wonderful things about what happened right here in our backyard."

The region was the first industrialized area in the United States. It was home to a unique community-centered approach to manufacturing, where mill buildings also included stores, libraries and other services employees might need, said Jan Reitsma, executive director of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, a federal group established by Congress in 1986 to lead preservation efforts in the valley.

"For a long time we've talked about this being the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution," Reitsma said. "In the current landscape, you can still see how things evolved. The mill buildings are still intact."

The National Park Service released a study over the summer that gives advocates a defendable analysis that resources in the Blackstone Valley are historically and nationally significant and meet the criteria for a national historical park, Reitsma said.

The Park Service is taking public comment gathered over the summer and adding it to the study, which will get an internal review by the Park Service before it can be brought for approval by Congress, Reitsma said.

The park would not be a large expanse, such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, but rather would be a series of sites or areas in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, likely including historic districts in Hopedale and the Whitinsville section of Northbridge, according to the study.

"Although we're very, very happy about the expression of support everywhere, it's still a very poor economy, and making something like this happen is not going to be easy," Reitsma said.

But becoming a park would give the region access to more dependable federal funding, help awareness of its history and increase tourism in the region, proponents said.

"I certainly think it's a benefit," said Jeannie Hebert, president and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce. "It would help our economy grow."

While she supports the proposal, Hebert said she would like to see more historical sites in the region included and hopes creating a park will open the door for sites such as Daniels Farmstead in Blackstone, near the Mendon town line, to become part of the park.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, whose district includes the Blackstone Valley, said in a statement that he "strongly" supports efforts to form the park.

"It is a special place that celebrates the region's history, heritage and culture. It is also a magnificent natural resource that is enjoyed by thousands of people each year," said Neal, D-2nd.

Milford, although not part of the towns in the corridor or a potential park, could still benefit from the proposal. It is a major gateway to the valley for visitors coming off Interstate 495 and has several hotels. The Blackstone Valley does not have a full-service hotel, Hebert said.

"We'd be in favor of anything like that," Doubletree Hotel General Manager Steve Gordon said. "It would only benefit our guests."

While the hotel mostly serves business travelers, staff often refer people to sites in the Blackstone Valley for leisure activities. Few guests are familiar with the Blackstone Valley before visiting the area, but Gordon said he hopes a national park draws people to Milford.

"I think it would help bring tourists to the valley," Northbridge Town Manager Theodore Kozak said. "We have quite a historic background, and to share that with the rest of the world is exciting."

Hopedale selectmen Kozak and Burns said their main concern is that a park could add too many restrictions for residents living in the historic districts who want to paint or renovate their homes.

"I'm always concerned that government at some point changes rules and says now you can't paint your house a certain color unless approved by us," Burns said, adding that he does not have a problem with the park plan as presented. "I believe that citizens who have a piece of property have the right to do what they want with it."

 

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