By Rod Lee
As subdued in personality as the muddy-banked river that flows quietly and unobtrusively (except when it floods) south from Worcester before emptying into Narragansett Bay, Megan DiPrete is well aware of the challenges she faces as the newly appointed executive director of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Inc. (BHC).
On the other hand Ms. DiPrete’s elevation from deputy director to replace the articulate and forward-thinking Charlene Perkins Cutler seems to have been almost foreordained.
For starters her own connection with the Corridor started quite a while ago. It began, she pointed out in the BHC’s ground-floor suite in the refurbished Linwood Mill in Whitinsville on May 1st, “when the Corridor was less than a year old” with the planner position she held at the time (1987) in Gloucester, Rhode Island. Second, the education she had acquired—at Bloomsburg University, the University of New Hampshire, Northeastern and the Donahue Institute at UMass—effectively pointed her toward the career path she would follow while keeping her close to the stream that powered the American Industrial Revolution. Third, she has had what she calls “the great fortune” to have worked with “a variety of stakeholders and leaders” including the late John H. Chafee (66th governor of Rhode Island, Secretary of the Navy and U.S. Senator), the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, former Massachusetts State Sen. Dick Moore and Ms. Cutler as preparation for being tapped to head up BCH.
The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is in fact named for Mr. Chafee.
One gets the feeling that although she is modest and undemonstrative, Ms. DiPrete exudes a passion for the mission of carrying the Corridor ahead that is every bit as intense as the burning commitment exhibited by Ms. Cutler, who recently retired after three years on the job. Ms. DiPrete says she was lucky “to work with a leader with the tremendous vision and remarkable skill sets” of Ms. Cutler, who, she added, “paints pictures with her words.” It was Ms. Cutler who launched the BHC’s “Go” exploring-venues program, the third annual version of which will be offered in September.
The most daunting part of taking on the position of executive director, Ms. DiPrete said, has been “the logistics of the transition of leadership in an organization like the BHC…the bureaucratic aspect. Fortunately I have continuity with the organization.” This doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure. “We will not be filling the position [of deputy director] I came from,” for instance, she said. So she will have to operate with a staff of only five full-timers “and yet,” she says, “we manage to reach all corners of our area”—a region of 556 square miles with an interconnected system of waterways and wetlands. There is also a one-third reduction in federal funding to contend with “so we have to do targeted fundraising with local foundations.” She is not dismayed by this prospect, noting that “a long track record, strong staff and sophisticated fiscal” apparatus will generate the needed monies—as they already have in $750,000 in private dollars for exhibits and the first-year operation of a Visitor Center in Worcester that is scheduled to open in June of 2018.
There is much to celebrate, she said. The quality of the Blackstone River “continues to improve, [despite] continued stresses. I remember as a young adult it was not considered safe to be in contact with the water.” The BHC itself “is a wonderful, energetic, lively organization that accomplishes so much. I am humbled to be executive director.” The organization continues to be represented at the federal level by “a strong delegation in Washington.” Then there is the BHC’s relocation from a train-depot building in Woonsocket to the Linwood Mill, officially a year as of April 29th. “It’s just fabulous,” Ms. DiPrete said of the BHC’s current home. “We are nearly at the geographic center of the entire National Heritage Corridor. I remember when we were in a small office in the middle of Uxbridge.”
Of huge importance too is the region’s now-standing as a National Park consisting of “six nodes:” the Visitor Center-to-be in the Quinsigamond Village neighborhood of Worcester, Plummer’s Landing in Whitinsville, the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge, sites in Woonsocket, the Blackstone River State Park and Kelly House in Lincoln and Slater Mill in Pawtucket.
Its National Park status enables the BHC to “continue to provide a framework for local engagement and the promotion of natural resources in the Blackstone River Valley,” she said. “We have wonderful state parks, a bikeway and the river but also the Jenckes store, the military history of the Asa Waters home, our textile past, farms and farm stands, scenic drives, a variety of interests” that can be enjoyed. A replica barn at the Captain Wilbur Kelly House—a partnership between the BHC and the Department of Environmental Management—is under construction in Lincoln.
The beat goes on.
In a reflective moment Ms. DiPrete said “the chapters of my life are the history of the Corridor itself.”
She would have it no other way.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.