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Fred Lippitt and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project

The concept of a greenway along the Woonasquatucket River began in 1993, when Fred Lippitt, Chair of The Providence Plan, looked for an opportunity to spark the revitalization of Olneyville. Olneyville, the poorest, most underserved neighborhood in Providence, seemingly had few assets to build on, with the exception of the Woonasquatucket river - highly appreciated in Waterplace Park, but neglected and trashed in the upstream neighborhoods. In 1993, most people living along the Woonasquatucket did not even know the name, let alone the history of the river that flowed through their neighborhoods. At the time, the abandoned buildings, heaps of illegally dumped trash, and closed parks along the river were nothing more than eyesores and risks to public health and safety.

Fred Lippitt at the Riverside Park Groundbreaking in 2002.

Fred discussed the potential for the greenway with elected officials and city, state and federal agency heads, and convinced them and many others that this was an important and viable project. He loves to tell stories about his frequent walks along the river, chance encounters with children catching crabs in the river, and the policeman waiting at his car, skeptical that anyone with the number 24 license plate would have willingly parked at the Riverside Mills Brownfield site. He enjoyed surprising his tour guests, showing off the unexpected pristine river environment that could be found near the burned out industrial sites in Olneyville and Hartford. Fred created the vision for the Greenway - and throughout the long process remained positive about its potential and adamant that this would be developed with the same care and standards that the city placed in Waterplace Park.

Fred recruited volunteer staff, and a proposal was developed to restore the river and abandoned public and private lands as a catalyst for change in Olneyville. They effectively pursued a major grant from the Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund's Urban Parks Initiative to plan and implement the Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project. Citizen's Bank, the Merck Family Fund, and EPA New England offered additional support for the initiative. Under Fred's leadership, the Greenway staff, working with city, state and federal agencies, leveraged over $12 million in capital funding for the Greenway, targeting the restoration of 67 acres of abandoned public and private lands along the river.

Fred played a critically important role in the development of the Greenway Project, supported and encouraged the development of the regional Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council as the new umbrella organization for the Greenway Project, and most recently spoke of the need to complete the fund raising necessary for capital improvements and an endowment fund to ensure the sustainability of the Greenway. Fred secured key city bond funds in 1996 and 2000 totaling over $2.7 million, meeting with the Mayor and every member of the City Council. His dedication to the Woonasquatucket prompted Senator John Chafee to secure $3.1 million in transportation funds for the bicycle path, and to nominate and speak directly with the President to ensure the designation of the Woonasquatucket as an American Heritage River. Senator Jack Reed worked equally hard to secure designation of the Greenway Project as a Brownfield Showcase Community, bringing in all the funding essential for environmental assessments and remedial design, and a $1 million HUD grant for the Riverside Mills cleanup.

Riverside Mills before and after! From Brownfield to beautiful city park with a playground, community garden, bike path, canoe launch and more.

Fifty-two acres of land along the river are already restored. Parks that were abandoned for years are now open and actively used by residents. Fifteen acres of contaminated industrial sites that were neglected for decades are being redeveloped for recreational and educational uses. Butterfly gardens now exist where piles of trash once lay. Wetlands have been restored in areas where rusted out cars were once discarded. Abandoned vacant lots adjacent to the Riverside Mills park sites will be redeveloped for affordable housing and home ownership opportunities for residents of Olneyville.

Fred's vision of a Greenway that provides recreational opportunity, restores the river environment, stimulates economic reinvestment and promotes neighborhood stabilization in Olneyville is well on its way to being realized.

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