RISBJ Staff | Jun 18, 2015
By Blackstone Valley Tourism Council
Since its creation in 1985, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC) has been a leader in transforming Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley into a visitor destination – a strong, vibrant region for visitors and residents. Working with local communities, state and federal governments, and like-minded nonprofits and businesses, the Council has not only increased the number of visitors and enhanced their visitor experience, but strengthened the region’s economy, created a stronger, cleaner environment, and improved the quality-of-life for the Blackstone Valley. Through the Council’s efforts they have been awarded several global tourism awards including the coveted Ulysses Prize from the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Tourism for Tomorrow Award from the World Travel & Tourism Council. No other tourism organization in the United States has been awarded these recognitions.
The key to the Council’s success has been quality planning, collaboration, and the use of sustainable tourism principles that encourage historic preservation and responsible destination development aimed at enhancing the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and well-being without compromising the Blackstone Valley for future generations. With no mountains or ocean beaches, the Council built on many of the assets existing in the region prior to the Council’s creation: a rich, cultural heritage and historic legacy, ethnic diversity, a robust authentic restaurant scene, the scenic Blackstone River, many parks and recreational facilities, and existing attractions.
The Council’s mission is to create positive change with regard to community values by developing and promoting coordinated, responsible and sustainable tourism in Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley communities. Recently, the Tourism Council has had special attention on working with the City of Central Falls. The natural, cultural and historical assets of the city, which includes the site of America’s earliest chocolate mill, are deeply woven throughout the community. In reality, Central Falls is the smallest and lowest-income city in Rhode Island, often viewed with negativity and unfavorable preconceptions. Central Falls is a very densely populated and largely low-income community that has had to struggle through local government corruption, crime, and a poor education system. To assist in overcoming these, BVTC has helped uncover and highlight the numerous assets available, create resources like River Island Campground and Chocolate Mill Overlook, and work to enable the city’s residents to increase stewardship and civic pride. Over the last five years, projects such as these have changed the landscape and outlook of the Central Falls. Now you will see the opening of new and exciting restaurants, cleaner streets and parks, frequent community festivals and events, and the relighting of Cogswell Tower- symbolizing a beacon of hope for the future.
The Council’s crowning achievement, which will lead our region into the future, is the newly enacted Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park – Rhode Island’s only National Park. Through a tenacious effort with several community partners, proper planning, and attention to preserving Blackstone Valley’s historical significance, this sought-after designation – an idea that began in BVTC’s office – was attained in December, 2014. The National Park will continue to come into place over the next few years,bringing in tens-of-thousands more visitors, increased visibility of the region, and additional funding opportunities to support further preservation and community projects that will highlight the richness of the Blackstone River Valley.
An aspect that people often overlook is the variation in types of tourism management. Similar to a product life cycle, R.W. Butler created the “visitor destination lifecycle”, where a destination’s position on this curve dictates what actions are taken. Some destinations around New England are in the “mature”stage where they can focus with great attention on promoting the tourism assets in place. Blackstone Valley, on the other hand, is a post-industrial area that has had to overcome severe environmental damage and poor public perception. For reasons such as these, Blackstone Valley is more so in the “development” stage. This means that organizations like Blackstone Valley Tourism Council hasneeded to concentrate on illuminating, preserving, and creating assets; restoring the environment to become recreation-ready, and shifting residents’ and visitors’ view to one that recognizes BlackstoneValley as a richly cultured and unique destination.
We are very proud that international companies like CVS Health and Hasbro have their headquarters in Blackstone Valley, as well as Hope Global and Berroco who keep manufacturing alive in the Valley. Twin River Casino and McCoy Stadium are two of the top visitor destinations in our State, a fact that not everyone may be aware of either. With regard to food, Blackstone Valley has many great culinary treasures like chicken family-style at Wright’s Farm, the Dynamite sandwich (a Woonsocket specialty), coffee milk, maple treats from Chepachet Farms, and the abundance of delicious authentic ethnic restaurants in Central Falls that includes La Casona and Budare Grille.