At the headwaters of the Blackstone River sits the brand new, Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center. This brick and glass building is truly a testament to the history of the Blackstone Canal and is staffed by incredibly well-informed and friendly members of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor.
The Blackstone River is formed in the Worcester neighborhood of Quinsigamond Village by the confluence of the Middle River and Mill Brook. Mill Brook’s course through the city is impounded by dams and forms Indian Lake and Institute Lake before traveling under the city via canals and meeting with the Middle River at the site of the new Blackstone Visitor Center in southern Worcester. The Blackstone River continues flowing south, growing in size as is picks up the flow of tributaries, eventually becoming tidal, south of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
The BHC staff will happily walk you through the interactive touch-screen exhibits that give you clues to the culture and surprising history of the Blackstone River Valley. There is a wonderful sculpture in the main hall of the visitors center with icons of Worcester’s history, the smiley face created in Worcester by Harvey Ball, the modern rocket and Robert Goddard, the suffrage movement, and many more.
The space is wonderfully bright, built almost entirely out of reclaimed materials, and filled with interesting exhibits; one could easily spend an hour reading all of the information.
The Blackstone Visitor Center is the start of the Blackstone bike trail that extends a little over two and a half miles south to Millbury. Along this route are parking areas at the BHC Visitors Center (3 Paul Clancy Way, Worcester), about a mile away at 1265 Millbury Street, Worcester, and at the terminus of 205 North Main Street, Millbury. This is paved and gently inclined, suitable for beginner bikers and even children.
The full forty-eight miles of the Blackstone River is not entirely served by a single connected bike path, though plans are in the works to continue adding to the three completed sections. The Worcester to Millbury section is the smallest, the next runs three and a half miles from Uxbridge to Blackstone, Massachusetts, and the final section running from Woonsocket to Lincoln, Rhode Island and is eleven miles long.
The bike path at the BHC Visitor Center extends north another half mile if you include the Blackstone Gateway Park which is absolutely worth a visit. Built in conjunction with the Visitor Center, Blackstone Gateway park is a half mile long series of elevated walking paths that run across the Middle River.
This is an amazing opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife any time of year. On summer visits, you may find musk rats, baby turtles, and the elusive red-winged black bird. It’s not uncommon to see a family of white-tailed deer if you visit the park early in the morning. The raised platforms pass over marshy wetlands as well as the Middle River itself, providing overlooks of the groves of saw-grass and pussy willow. You never know what you may find swimming in the shallows so keep an eye out as you walk. The overlooks also provide informational installations about the local wildlife and birds that you might see.
The Visitor Center is located at 3 Paul Clancy Way, Worcester, MA right off of RT 146 and RT 290. The Visitor Center is open seven days a week. Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays Noon to 5:00 p.m. Phone: 508-341-0741.
The Blackstone Gateway Park is located on the opposite side of the railroad tracks and is open from dusk until dawn.
There are numerous associations and supporter groups that create activities along the course of the river including kayaking and canoeing clubs that provide recreational maps of the river.