America's Great Outdoors Initiative
Top Obama Administration Official, U.S. Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Governor Chaffee, and Providence Mayor Taveras Visit Riverside Park to Highlight America's Great Outdoors Initiative Where NRCS Constructed a Fish Ladder to Restore Herring, Alewife, and Shad in Woonasquatucket River
On Monday, June 6, 2011, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley joined U.S. Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Governor Chaffee, Providence Mayor Taveras, and local students at Riverside Park to highlight the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, which promotes land and water conservation and reconnecting more Americans with the outdoors. With over $3 million in Federal funding and private foundations supporting the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC), several Federal agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) collaborated with State and local organizations to transform Riverside Park, a former Brownfield site, into a thriving area that promotes environmental, recreational, and cultural restoration of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed.
NRCS provided financial and technical assistance under the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) for a cooperative fish passage restoration effort to construct several fish ladders and remove dams throughout the Woonasquatucket River Watershed to promotes anadromous fish passage in the river. At Riverside Park in the Olneyville section of Providence, RI, NRCS worked with several partners including the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council to construct a denil fish ladder abutting the Atlantic Mills Dam which allows precipitously declining migratory fish such a herring, alewife, and American Shad, which migrate from salt water to fresh water to spawn, to access in the lower portion of the Woonasquatucket River to spawn upstream. This is likely the most complicated fish ladder on the river due to the height of the dam. It was built so that visitors can walk on a grate above the fish ladder and look down to observe fish travelling up and down stream during the migratory period from March till June each year.
The fish ladder at Riverside Park is an integral part of the comprehensive fish passage restoration project for the Woonasquatucket River which includes fish passage through the first five dams on the river. These dams were originally built over 140 years ago during the American Industrial Revolution which blocked migratory fish from accessing the formerly thriving spawning grounds of the Woonasquatucket River. In 2004, NRCS in partnership with the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council began a comprehensive effort to restore fish passage to the Woonasquatucket River. Although there were several partners involved in the project, NRCS provided 75 percent of the funding for planning, designing, and construction efforts while the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council raised the remaining funds. In 2007, construction of the first fish ladder was completed at the dam located at the Rising Sun Mills on Valley Street in Providence. In 2009, the fish ladder at the Atlantic Mills Dam located at Riverside Park was completed and the dam at Dyerville, which was made of wood, was removed. Then in 2010, the concrete Paragon Dam located not far from Rising Sun Mills was removed and planning began to create a fish ladder at Manton Dam which is 5/8 mile from Dyerville. The work currently continues at Manton Dam where when completed, a pond located next to the dam will provide excellent spawning habitat. It should be noted that a similar effort for comprehensive fish passage is also currently taking place on the nearby Blackstone River.
NRCS' fish passage restoration efforts not only support wildlife habitat but also support the important $160 million recreational fishing industry. The herring, alewife, and American Shad and their offspring are an important food source to support the larger recreational saltwater fish sought by sports fishermen off Rhode Island's coastline. During the tour at Riverside Park, attendees including the dignitaries were able to observe the local students learn in a series of outdoor classroom events that included canoe rides, water quality monitoring, planting, animal demonstrations, and valuable educational benefits of the fish ladders. Chair Sutley visited Rhode Island at the invitation of Senator Reed who is the author of the proposed No Child Left Inside Act which would provide critical funding to reconnect more children with nature and strengthen environmental education in America's classrooms.