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Blackstone Heritage Corridor Celebrates Champions of the Blackstone

The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor held its “Champions of the Blackstone” Awards Reception to recognize its volunteers and John H. Chafee Heritage Award recipients. Those receiving the Chafee Award include (from left to right) Chuck Arning, Mary Lee Partington, Christian de Rezendes, and Stefanie Covino. William McGinnis (second from right) received the Suzanne Buchanan Volunteer of the Year Award. Also pictured is BHC’s Executive Director, Devon Kurtz.

The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (BHC) held a “Champions of the Blackstone” Awards Reception on December 4th to celebrate its Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) volunteers and recognize its John H. Chafee Heritage Award recipients. The reception was held at the Singh Performance Center at Alternatives’ Whitin Mill and was sponsored by Navigant Credit Union. 

“This past year, our over 250 volunteers worked as diligently as ever to keep our bike paths safe, our walking trails clear, and the river clean and accessible,” noted BHC’s Board Chair Dennis Rice. “On behalf of the Board, we can’t thank our volunteers enough. The sense of community amongst the volunteer corps and the importance of the institution’s mission keeps me invested.” 

“On behalf of the Healey-Driscoll Administration, I want to thank everyone for sharing their time and talents in volunteer service to the Blackstone Heritage Corridor,” noted Priscilla Geigis, Deputy Commissioner for Conservation and Resource Stewardship, with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). “Time is a precious resource because you cannot get it back, so you need to spend it doing what you love and with the people you love.” Geigis thanked everyone for sharing their heart. “Your service is a testament to your passion for the Blackstone and each other, and your commitment to fostering shared stewardship of our special places.” 

Allison Horrocks, Park Ranger with Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, shared some inspiring quotes and reminded everyone that “the power of the Blackstone is with the people.”   

Molly Cardoza, BHC’s Director of Volunteer and Community Engagement, congratulated its National Park Service Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) volunteers on their nearly $1 million in volunteer service in fiscal year 2023. The VIPs logged 31,058 volunteer hours at an in-kind value of $987,644.  

Cardoza presented the 2nd annual Suzanne Buchanan Volunteer of the Year award to William McGinnis of Cumberland, RI. “Suzanne inspired all of us to imagine the possibilities,” Cardoza shared. “She showed us that the natural and cultural resources in the Blackstone Heritage Corridor can be the basis for exciting recreation and a vibrant quality of life. In creating the Bikeway Ambassadors volunteer program, the vision was for volunteers who would welcome visitors to the Bikeway, provide assistance to those in need, report hazards on the bikeway, and be the face of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor while biking or walking the bikeway. Bill McGinnis embodies this vision as a Bikeway Ambassador and as a volunteer for Accessible Cycling Programs. Bill can frequently be found riding or walking the Blackstone River Bikeway helping cyclists with deflated tires and reporting in obstructions, down trees, or other hazards. Staff members of All Out Adventures, our partner in accessible cycling programs, praise Bill’s demeanor, professionalism, and can-do attitude. He makes participants of this program feel welcome and like they are already great friends when they ride together.  Bill’s presence on the Bikeway and at Accessible Cycling rides means that we know visitors will be welcomed and assisted with warmth and professionalism.”  

Cardoza presented the Volunteer Partner of the Year Award to Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone for their outreach programs in the past year. “The Blackstone River Watershed Council/ Friends of the Blackstone is one of our longest-standing partnerships, working to improve the health and accessibility of the Blackstone River for over 30 years,” Cardoza noted. “This year we recognize their commitment to working with individuals with disabilities through their Connecting through Canoes program, their partnership with the Indigenous Peoples of our region in their work towards the building of a fish passage at Pawtucket, their outreach to diverse communities throughout the Valley through new fishing programs, and their continued work to clean up the Blackstone River and its watershed. They have led litter cleanups, water chestnut pulls, and are working to create a new town park. Last fiscal year, they logged 1,845 hours of volunteering!”   

Cardoza also recognized volunteers with the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club who assisted the Harrisville Fire Department with a rescue of a missing resident they discovered while paddling on the Nipmuc River in Harrisville, RI: Steve Riendeau, Julie Riendeau, Dave Biernacki, Steve Norris, Manny Terezakis, Cheryl Thompson, Tom Farley, Cathy Cochran, Phil Johansen, Rick Everett, Orla Christiansen, Patrick Reddy, Joan Reddy, and Christine Satterwhite. 

Volunteers who serve 250 hours earn a complimentary America the Beautiful Pass, providing them free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day-use fees) at national forests and grasslands and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Seventeen of BHC’s volunteers earned an America the Beautiful Pass in the Fiscal Year 2023 including Justine Brewer, Norma Bedrosian, Sue Ciaramicoli, Bill Ela, Kenneth Ethier, Pam Gurney Farnham, Keith Hainley, Rich Keene, Stephanie Maoz, John Marsland, Albert Menard, Betty Mencucci, Lynne Pelletier, Alan Salemi, Paul Schaefer, Kim Walker, and Ross Weaver. 

Devon Kurtz, BHC’s Executive Director, announced the recipients of BHC’s John H. Chafee Heritage Awards: Chuck Arning, Stefanie Covino, Christian de Rezendes, and Mary Lee Partington.  

Created by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, the John H. Chafee Heritage Award honors the late Senator’s legacy and recognizes individuals, groups, or students who have worked on projects that promote cultural heritage, environmental conservation, and the quality of life in the Blackstone River Valley. Past years’ recipients have celebrated community leaders, preservation heroes, business partners, environmental advocates, and students whose achievements resulted in public benefit. These heroes have demonstrated the Valley’s long tradition of leadership and inspiration.  

Chuck Arning, a retired National Park Service ranger from Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park and a resident of Lunenburg, MA, was nominated for the John H. Chafee Heritage Award by BHC’s Executive Director, Devon Kurtz. “Chuck Arning retired from the National Park Service (NPS) after 24-1/2 years of service as an Interpretive Ranger in the Blackstone River Valley,” Kurtz noted. “He currently works as a consultant for the Worcester Historical Museum and assists other museums and historic sites in accomplishing their missions. As the A/V Specialist for the Blackstone Valley, he produced over 85 videos and TV episodes on outdoor recreation, history, preservation efforts, and the people of the Blackstone River Valley. Arning produced, wrote, hosted, and was a contributing editor of the award-winning series “Along the Blackstone” for the NPS. Ranger Arning was awarded the NPS’s 1997 National Freeman Tilden Award for excellence in interpretation. In 2002 he was awarded the Freedom Star Award for his work on the Underground Railroad by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. He was awarded the 2014 Leadership in Preservation Award by the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and the 2017 Massachusetts History Conference “Bay State Legacy Award.” Ranger Arning was the project manager for the widely acclaimed book Landscape of Industry: An Industrial History of the Blackstone Valley” (University Press of N.E., 2009). He is currently researching the Irish orphans and their emigration to Canada during the Famine, Black U.S. troops in WWI, and family history.” 

Stefanie Covino, Program Manager at the Blackstone Watershed Collaborative, and a resident of Sutton, MA, was nominated for the John H. Chafee Heritage Award by Donna Williams, a BHC Board Director and President of the Blackstone River Coalition. “Through Stefanie’s efforts, the Blackstone Collaborative has become the de facto environmental arm of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor,” Williams explained. “The Corridor’s shift from federal commission to non-profit reduced its resources and its ability to focus on the river, its watershed and land use. By using her skills gained as co-coordinator of the Taunton Watershed Network, she has reinvigorated the Blackstone watershed environmental community and created a true Collaborative.” 

According to Williams, Stefanie hit the ground running at the Blackstone Watershed Collaborative, and more than a year into the program, she has pulled together over 100 partners through the monthly Collaborative network meetings, rigorous research in grant opportunities, and cheerleading partner projects. Several such projects are: the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone’s “Be the Voice of Kittacuck: Enhancing Fish Passage” film and advocacy; Southern New England Network’s “Creating Resilient Communities: Bylaws & Regulations” program; Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Restoration project in Worcester; RISD’s Blackstone River Commons 4-day paddle of the River with Stefanie as co-organizer and participant; and the Blackstone River Coalition’s Water Quality Monitoring program. Through this impressive network, the Collaborative is building regional engagement in order to grow the knowledge, tools, and capacity required to address the goals described in the Needs Assessment Report. 

Christian de Rezendes, producer of the documentary series “Slatersville: America’s First Mill Village” and a resident of North Smithfield, RI, was nominated for the John H. Chafee Heritage Award by BHC’s staff. Through his company, Breaking Branches Pictures (est. 1996), de Rezendes has produced critically acclaimed feature films. To date, his work has received more than 40 filmmaking awards. Many of his twenty-plus directing credits have been broadcast on PBS and screened internationally at film festivals. 

“In the fall of 2022, after 11 years of production, the first half of his documentary series Slatersville: America’s First Mill Village” premiered on Rhode Island PBS and now streams internationally on the PBS app,” Kurtz added. “Slatersville was honored with two Regional Boston/New England Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Documentary and Outstanding Musical Composition, which it won. The series also received a Gold Telly Award for Documentary Series and three film festival awards from the Mass Indie Film Fest, Block Island Film Festival, and the LifeArt Festival.” 

Mary Lee Partington of Glocester, RI, was nominated by U.S. Senator Jack Reed. “A researcher at heart, Mary Lee’s vocation is to learn, teach, and inspire others to impart knowledge about the place, the people, the culture, the heritage, and the rich traditions of the land that she calls home – The Blackstone Valley,” Reed shared. “Mary Lee demonstrates a lifelong commitment to showcasing the Blackstone Valley’s rich history through artistic expression. Her support of music, dance, theater, and storytelling celebrates the Corridor. She is an event maker and singer-songwriter whose dynamic performances bring life to history and connect people of all ages and backgrounds. She encourages us to explore the heritage of the Blackstone River Valley and share in the treasure it is today. Moreover, Mary Lee Partington challenges us as individuals and collectively as members of a community to be engaged with the Blackstone River Valley with hope for its future. So many community events could be footnoted with Mary Lee’s name as she unselfishly extends herself both on the stage and behind the scenes to so many local events and undertakings in Rhode Island, throughout New England, and abroad.” 

 

Nearly 40 years ago, Mary Lee was one of the founders of the group Pendragon which has celebrated the rich traditions in Celtic music and brought to life the legacy of generations of immigrants. These immigrants came with their musical traditions from Ireland, Scotland, French-Canada, and beyond, as they worked in the mill factories on the shores of the Blackstone River. As the lead vocalist for Pendragon, Mary Lee has written numerous songs and ballads depicting the lives of those who settled along the Blackstone River.  She is also an award-winning English teacher. 

 

Nominations for the 2023 John H. Chafee Heritage Award are now open. Find the form at  https://blackstoneheritagecorridor.org/about-bhc/john-h-chafee-heritage-awards/. Nominations should be submitted by January 30, 2024, and can be mailed to John H. Chafee Heritage Award, Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 670 Linwood Avenue, Whitinsville, MA, 01588, or emailed to Devon Kurtz at [email protected].To learn more about the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, visit BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.