Tricentennial Park - The Little Park With Possibilities Sutton’s Birthday Gift To The Blackstone Valley

by John LaPoint

     It’s the new pride and joy of a town celebrating its birthday. But it’s just a small sliver of land with a simple fence around it. Now that the celebrations are over, and the canoes, the kayaks, and all the tents and the people are gone, it’s a simple piece of ground tucked away in a corner of a community known for its very large farms. It’s off the beaten path, after all, who really knows where Route 122A is in the Blackstone Valley. And it’s next to a largely unknown river dam with a funny sounding name. But it’s also a place where great history took place, and there, just over the bridge in the dense under-brush, there's even more!
    How can something seemingly so nondescript and simple, even though it has a lovely waterfall and scenic views - but how can this small stretch of land along a river, be so important to the northern tier of communities in the Blackstone Valley? How can something that appears to be uniquely Sutton, also be of importance to the towns of Grafton, Millbury, and maybe even to big city Worcester? How can one little piece of riverfront land, soon to be a beautiful park, carry so much weight on its shoulders?

     Welcome to Sutton’s 300th birthday gift to us all, Tricentennial Park. It’s not a stone monument to a famous historical person, but over time this newest facility of the Blackstone Riverway may take on an importance akin to the Founding Fathers. Look beyond the simple split rail fence, the colorful sign showing what is to come, and all the woodchips. Look beyond the magnificent views up into the rich farm land of Sutton off Blackstone Street, farm land that even finds its way into this oldest corner of Sutton, the village of Wilkinsonville. This little riverside park has big ambitions to be in the regional spotlight, and many are expecting it to meet and even exceed its own lofty goals.

What is it about this small piece of ground, tucked between the railroad tracks of the mighty Providence and Worcester Railroad, and the food processing plant and another new factory being built that signifies Blackstone Valley progress? This little park also signifies that progress, that new hope.

    For many of us who live in the so-called northern communities of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, the prospect of new parks, new facilities, and yes, new hope, along the Blackstone River Corridor has come slowly these past 18 years since the Corridor, this new type of a national park, was first established. Some-times, it seemed that everything was happening in Rhode Island, or at Slater Mill in Pawtucket, or at that River Bend Farm way down there in Uxbridge.

     Sure, we loved to travel up and down Route 146 and visit with all of the new acquaintances and friends we’ve made through Corridor Commission activities. And yes, we would often see a uniformed Corridor Commission Park Ranger walking down our streets on a Thursday night Ranger Walkabout in New England Village in North Grafton or in downtown Millbury, or deep in the woods on an unconventional interpretative walk at Sutton’s Waters Farm. Executive Director Mike Creasey and his predecessor, Jim Pepper, seemed to be everywhere, talking about the Heritage Corridor and all the neat opportunities this new and creative idea presented to us.

     But for some reason, perhaps multiple reasons, the idea of the “Blackstone River Corridor” just didn’t begin to take full traction, to use a railroad term, in these northern most parts of the Blackstone River Valley until the City of Worcester hopped on board, and in a very big way. Who would have dreamed just a few years ago of a new northern anchor, a visitors center at the proposed Blackstone Gateway Park in South Worcester, site of the fondly remembered, sprawling South Worcester steel works. Now we seem to talk about new canoe launches at virtually every bend of the river, where before we left several older boat launches to the mercy of the elements. Maybe it was all of these stories about the Blackstone River and the Heritage Corridor appearing in the daily and Sunday newspapers, and on new regional web sites and new regional newspapers, like our own Blackstone Daily.

    The little park in Wilkinsonville has received so much publicity recently that it’s in danger of getting a swelled head!
     Finally, there's now an energy in these communities that's almost magnetic. As Mike Creasey describes it, “There are great things happening in this part of the Blackstone Valley.”

The point is simply this. Tricentennial Park belongs to Sutton, but in the same way that the Blackstone River belongs to all of us, and we are its stewards, so too are we the beneficiaries of Sutton’s foresight. The extensive collaboration of environmental, political and community volunteers gets easier with each success.Our own state Representative, Grafton’s George Peterson has worked unceasingly behind the scenes to encourage landowners in Wilkinsonville and South Grafton to find an even better ath for the Blackstone Bikeway that truly uncovers the old Blackstone.

Canal and the historic towpath. The stretch of the river in Wilkinsonville, just beyond the Singing Dam bridge across from Tricentennial Park, may be one of the best originally preserved sections of this magnificent canal structure, hidden all these years deep in a heavy forest down in a largely inaccessible gully alongside the mighty river.

It’s what Senator Richard Moore calls “our treasured river,” what Sutton town administrator Pat Nedoroscik described as “taken away from all of us for way too many years,” what Rep. Jen Callahan has fond memories of and what Rep.Paul Frost calls “the beacon in the valley.” Truly, the possibilities for little Tricentennial Park are endless, only confined by the limits of ones imagination and creativity. 

   It may be tucked away in Sutton, but it can become a shining example of what vision and partnerships can do (and should do) along the Blackstone River. From the uncovering of the canal in downtown Worcester, with the bikway alongside the P & W railroad tracks heading south, underneath the powerful economic engines of the Mass Turnpike and Route 146, and down into the historic mill villages of Millbury, Wilkinsonville, South Grafton and on down to the Northbridge town line and beyond, Tricentennial Park allows all of us a unique opportunity to dream of even more successes revisiting our past heritage while creating a bright, new future with local partnerships, hard work, and the energy and vision of the people of the Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor.

 Tricentennial Park, tucked off Rte 122 about a half mile from Goretti's Market, Millbury.


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