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Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington

Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington (Day 1, February 5, 2024)
Greetings, everyone from our Nation’s Capital, Washington DC. Every year, the National Heritage Areas descend on DC to meet and catch up, share best practices, concerns, and successes, and meet with our Congressional Delegations. I was reminded this year of the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; thus, my theme for the year was set. Hopefully, as I journey through the House and the Senate, my experiences will be much more fruitful and less cause for angst like poor Jimmy Stuart’s character, Mr. Smith.
I will try to visit many of the spots that Mr. Smith did, but remember Dennis Rice and I are here, working hard and advocating strongly for our Blackstone River Valley communities. We will, however, take some time to explore. Like Mr. Smith upon his arrival in DC, I stand here in awe of all our nation has done and still continues to do. A true beacon through time.
My favorite scene from the movie is when Jimmy Stuart visits the Lincoln Memorial. He says in the film it is as if Mr. Lincoln looks right at you, and I can’t help but feel the same way. It is truly amazing to stand there for a bit and “visit” with Mr. Lincoln. I bet he’d love to go on a bike ride down the Blackstone River Bikeway. I wonder if I could get him to ride our high wheel? I bet he would! I look forward to sharing each day’s adventures and this small hint of what the Blackstone Heritage Corridor does “behind the scenes.”
Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington, a Visit with Congressman Jim McGovern (February 5, 2024)
Hello everyone! My first day was spent with Congressman Jim McGovern (Massachusetts). He is a long-time supporter and stalwart advocate of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor. He has, by far, the nicest office of any of the representatives we are meeting with this week. The picture of the two of us is from his balcony! Can you imagine working every day with the Capitol Dome over your shoulder? Two big takeaways from our meeting: the first, what can we do to get the bikeway/greenway completed, especially in Massachusetts? We need to see what we can do to travel through Millbury, Grafton, Sutton, Northbridge, and down into Uxbridge. DCR is connecting to RI by this spring, so the challenge is set. We, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, will be looking to hire a bikeway advocate this spring to assist towns in a grassroots campaign to see what we can get done. We have also formalized a partnership with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission and MassBike to help as well. The second takeaway is what are we doing with the Visitor Center in Worcester? Well, in a couple of weeks, our agreement with DCR should be finalized, and we will move some of our operations back there. We will use the site as a training center for volunteers, run programs there, and open the space for our partners to use as well. On Wednesday, the Alliance for National Heritage Areas will be giving Congressman McGovern an award for the work he has done on the Heritage Areas program (but more on that later, as that will be Wednesday’s post!).

 

 

Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington (Day 2, February 6, 2024)

Wow, it was a busy day! After a quick breakfast, Dennis and I joined our colleagues for the Alliance of National Heritage Areas annual meeting. It was great to catch up and find out all about the great things that the other Heritage Areas are doing. (We may be coming back with some new ideas!) We had to leave early, though, as Dennis and I had meetings on the Hill.

Our first stop was with Senator Jack Reed. It was great to share all of the great things that the Blackstone Heritage Corridor has been doing in the Valley. The Senator, though, would like to see even more. He expressed interest in having us create new ways to engage with RI school students and get them out into nature more. He would also like to see new ways to use GearHeads, our Junior Ranger program with the Park, to further engage them with history. I think that is a challenge we can meet, especially with the new ideas that Molly has with the Volunteers-In-Parks program. The Senator also enjoyed our first edition of baseball cards but wants to see some Rhode Islanders highlighted. I think we can do that. Maybe our first should feature Old Hoss Rabourn. If you have never heard of him, you’re in for a treat!

 

We then had to rush across the Capitol grounds to meet our newest representative from Rhode Island, Congressman Gabe Amo. It was great to introduce him to the Heritage Areas program, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and all that we do throughout the Valley. Did you know he grew up in Woonsocket? We’re making plans to take him on a ride down the Blackstone River Bikeway this spring.

Getting ready for another busy day tomorrow. I know one thing, there sure is a lot of walking around through DC. I should have brought our high wheel to get around!

-Devon

 

 

 

Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington (Day 3, February 7, 2024)

What a simply amazing day! Dennis and I began the day at the annual Alliance of National Heritage Areas Awards Breakfast (and, yes, the food was pretty good!). Our very own Congressman Jim McGovern was honored this year for his staunch advocacy, not just for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, but for the National Heritage Areas program overall. We couldn’t be prouder to have honored him this morning.

Then, it was off to meet with Congressman Jake Auchincloss. The big takeaway from our meeting was about the SNETT Bike Trail and its intersection with the Blackstone River Greenway. It is also interesting to note that he has had to work hard with negotiations with rail roads for easements and right of ways. Something for us to remember as we look at several of the Massachusetts communities that we’re looking at for potential bikeway routes.

Dennis and I stopped for a quick burger and then had to run across the Capitol grounds to get to the Senate side of the Hill. I tried to have our meetings grouped all house and all senate, but, of course, it didn’t work out that way and all week it has been back and forth and back and forth. It is a good thing that the scenery is so pretty. At one point, I could see the sun through the windows of the Capitol Dome! It was amazing to see.

We then went off to meet with Senator Whitehouse’s office. It was great to catch up with the staff that we’ve now known for several years. They promised to work hard with Senator Reed’s office as with our appropriations package. Senator Whitehouse may be interested in kayaking with us sometime later this spring!

Our evening ended with the annual gathering of the National Park Foundation at the Botanical Gardens. What a great night and thanks to the Foundation for inviting us! Director Charles Sams spoke. He asked us all at the beginning of his remarks if we could remember our first visit to a national park. I can remember my first visit. When I was 8, we would visit my dad in West Orange, NJ for the summer. I would walk down to Thomas Edison Historical Park and hang out with the rangers all day! Can still remember all the different inventions at Edison’s factory, from fake rubber to the light bulb to moving pictures. By the end of the summer, I even got to assist the Rangers with the operation of the Black Maria! It was a different time, then. I can’t imagine letting my sons do that at 8.

The Black Maria at Thomas Edison’s Laboratory Complex (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

One more day of meetings and exploring and then home to the Blackstone River Valley.

-Devon

Mr. Kurtz Goes to Washington (Day 4, February 8, 2024)

Today, there was all sorts of excitement going on due to the pending Supreme Court discussion (which I will not go into as part of the blog), and streets all around the courthouse were closed or limited to only foot traffic. Definitely put a bit of a challenge on how I was to get from the House side to the Senate for my meetings.

I met with representatives from Congressman Seth Magaziner’s office first thing in the morning. He was unable to attend, but I was happy to walk his staffer through the history of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and all of the things that we do throughout the Valley. As space in the office was unavailable, we met at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Longworth House building! What a terribly New England way of having a meeting!

After lunch, I headed over to Senator Ed Markey’s office to meet with his staff. They asked if an intern could be part of the discussion, and I readily agreed. The young man is majoring in environmental planning, so it was fun to discuss the challenges along the river and all the positive work our volunteers and partners do.

As I walked by the Supreme Court at the end of the day, I noticed relatively few protesters (maybe three that I could identify). The crowds I had seen from the distance were all press! I thought it would be much more exciting than it turned out to be.

And this wraps up my time in Washington. Hope you had fun coming along with me. I am finishing the day up at a Polynesian-themed restaurant, TikiTNT, and in the morning, I head home. I know that my feet are looking forward to a rest. Cheers!
-Devon