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With 19,367 residents living in an area of 1.29 square miles, Central Falls is hardly a place where you would expect to find Boy Scouts roasting hot dogs over a campfire.
But it’s happening this summer. River Island Community Park, 6.24 acres of recreational space beside the Blackstone River, has become Rhode Island’s first urban campground. The city park, just off High Street, features a footbridge that leads to a small island. Scouts, outing clubs and other organized groups are now invited to pitch their tents and spend the night at the site.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, Central Falls disappears from view. You’re surrounded by chirping birds, shade-casting oaks and the sun-dappled river. You might think you’re in the New Hampshire woods, but you’re really just 10 minutes from the Statehouse.
“We’ve been searching for years to find some land where people could camp along the river,” said Robert Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, one of the groups that helped create the campground. “We always thought it would be in Lincoln or Cumberland. Now we’ve found we can use this beautiful underutilized island forest. It’s a wonderful resource for people living in an urban area.”
How did a campground pop up in Central Falls? It didn’t happen overnight. River Island Community Park is a former mill site that evolved into green space over 15 years. Today the small park is often lauded as an example of design work that incorporates both recreational facilities and natural landscapes.
Fire destroyed the long-vacant Spintex Mill in 1995, leaving behind a two-acre site littered with rubble and contaminated by industrial waste. A year later the city seized the parcel as a tax foreclosure.