By Jonathan Bissonnette
Blackstone Valley Explorer riverboat back in the water after stem-to-stern overhaul Two local institutions have a new lease on life this spring
CENTRAL FALLS – With passengers including local officials, fourth-grade students from Blackstone Valley Prep Academy, and representatives from Mystic Aquarium, the Blackstone Valley Explorer Riverboat on Friday morning sailed off for its maiden voyage for the 2016 season but not before the refurbished boat was christened by a bath of Narragansett beer.
While it has entertained and educated children and families alike throughout the region since 1993, the riverboat was recently starting to show its age. However, with new equipment, new science, and a fresh coat of paint, it
is ready to once again take to the Blackstone River to continue its journey.
Among the repairs made to the Explorer include replacing a large portion of the bottom of the boat and all of the foam floatation that keeps it afloat; installing a brand-new deck on the riverboat’s interior and exterior; adding new bulkheads on the interior; installing new seating; replacing the once-flat roof that would hold water with a roof that has a crown to it; installing new engines that are quieter and more efficient; replacing bracing; and adding a fresh coat of paint.
Robert Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, said that the boat was “having a new birth” Friday morning just prior to its departure from the Central Falls Landing on Madeira Avenue. “Doesn’t it look beautiful?” he asked the crowd, with the 60-plus students responding in the affirmative.
“I get to invite people to this place, to these important places called the Blackstone Valley,” Billington said. With Mystic Aquarium educators and scientists partnering to provide education on watershed ecology, water quality sustainable practices, and pollution solutions, Billington added that their knowledge will add so much to an already historically- and scientifically-relevant 45minute tour of the river.
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa said that he “loved the energy” present at the dock on Madeira Avenue just moments before the boat was launched for its maiden voyage. He said that the children from Blackstone Valley Prep Academy were about to enjoy the river – a “great prize in the Blackstone Valley.”
Diossa said that just last week, he kayaked the river and said it was “so relaxing.” He added that with the “great efforts” of Billington and the Tourism Council, they are “always looking to elevate the treasures we have.”
Billington and Narragansett events manager B.J. Mansuetti christened the boat with a bath of Narragansett Lager, which Tourism Council officials said was an opportunity to welcome Rhode Island’s oldest beer to Pawtucket as the valley’s newest brewer.
Much of the riverboat’s repairs and renovations were supported by the June Rockwell Levy Foundation, which makes grants with priority to organizations serving the communities of Providence and northern Rhode Island. In addition to the contributions from the foundation, the Explorer riverboat was also the beneficiary of financial support from friends of the Tourism Council.
Mystic Aquarium’s educator scientists will lead the Explorer’s long-running RiverClassroom educational program, an experiential learning program targeted to local schools and youth groups. Through this outdoor classroom setting, Mystic Aquarium and the Tourism Council will engage children and adults in the natural, cultural, and historical aspects of the Blackstone Valley. The hands-on outdoor classroom will also provide an opportunity for interaction with an underwater remotely-operated vehicle.
Mystic Aquarium president and chief executive officer Stephen M. Coan said: “We are always impressed with the work that is being done by Bob and his team at the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.”
“We are incredibly proud of this cooperative effort and the credibility that our staff can add to this important educational program,” Coan added. “This partnership is the epitome of our strategic plan and it speaks directly to our mission to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through education, conservation, and research.”
Mystic Aquarium educators will also be guiding the Explorer’s public tours beginning on May 15 and running through Oct. 30 at four different locations around Blackstone Valley. River tours are every Sunday at 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m. Environmental education tours are on the third Saturday of each month at 1 and 2 p.m.
The Explorer will be docked at Central Falls Landing from May 15 to June 26, the Oyster House Marina in East Providence from June 27 to July 17; Pawtucket’s Festival Pier from July 18 to Sept. 5; and Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket from Sept. 6 to Oct. 30. The public tours are $12 for adults, $10 for children under age 12, and $10 for senior citizens over age 62. For tickets and dates, www.rivertourblackstone.com.
Docked adjacent to the Explorer at Central Falls Landing on Friday was the Samuel Slater – the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council’s authentic British canal boat. After some minor renovations, the Slater is once again available as an overnight accommodation for up to four people, as well as small group charters and special events. Slater can be rented as a bed and breakfast through Airbnb and for an extra charge, the Slater will ride out onto the river.
The Slater has been out of commission for the past five years as various repairs were made. An open house of the Samuel Slater will be held on Sunday, May 22 from 10 am. to noon.
Original article printed in the 5/7 edition of The Times.