From Fields to Festivals

Parks and Recreation in Rhode Island

Public parks have been an integral part of the social fabric of our world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Watch Hill Lighthouse (c. 1920-1930) by Rhode Island. Department of State (1730-)Rhode Island State Archives

The Ocean State lives up to its name every summer, welcoming thousands of Rhode Island residents and out-of-state visitors to our beautiful beaches. 

Whether it's to explore the waves or historic landmarks, the water has welcomed Rhode Islanders and visitors to enjoy its views for centuries.

(Howard J. Preston photograph collection)

The thoughtful preservation and conservation of public spaces safeguards the natural environment of each unique public park for the enjoyment and use of future generations.

Softball game, Rhode Island. Department of State (1730-), c. 1935-1954, From the collection of: Rhode Island State Archives
RI76 Softball Sponsorship sticker, Rhode Island Bicentennial Foundation, 1974-1976, From the collection of: Rhode Island State Archives
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This photograph from the Recreational Advertising collection is just one example of the excitement of participating in and cheering on sports teams, whether it’s the home team, college team, a special celebration like the Bicentennial, or friends from the neighborhood. 

Garden Plans Appleton Street Park color drawing (1982-2007) by Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, R.I.) (1981-)Rhode Island State Archives

Garden Plans, Southside Community Land Trust

Located in South Providence, the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) is committed to the belief that city dwellers are entitled to a healthy environment. SCLT's community gardens produce food and the opportunity for better nutrition and greater self-sufficiency. 

Garden Plans, Southside Community Land Trust

These site plans, hand drawn maps, garden plots, and planning materials provide a glimpse into the everyday beauty of local parks. These garden plans capture not only what families aimed to grow, but also the trees, flowers, and plants already there to enjoy. 

Garden Plans, Southside Community Land Trust

SCLT has turned approximately five acres of formerly vacant lots into community gardens, expanded its farm operation to 50 preserved acres in Cranston, established the Broad Street Farmer's Market, and developed a successful CSA program. It is still operating today.

Every day, Rhode Islanders enrich our state by throwing birthday parties, planning hikes, running in the fields, and attending festivals across the beautiful landscape that we all call home.

Bicyclists on Block Island (July 1953) by Rhode Island. Department of StateRhode Island State Archives

Public parks serve as a gathering space for all Rhode Islanders. Often, those gathering spaces are used for sports - from football, to baseball, to frisbee, or biking, sports are one of the many ways we create and maintain community. 

Each of the 22 parks and beaches in the RI State Park system, as well as the many outdoor spaces maintained by municipalities, are unique.

Miscellaneous Yellowstone Nat'L Park (1946) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

RI's First State Park was established in 1909.

Lincoln Woods State Park is an anchor for outdoor activities and natural appreciation. Since 1909, it has grown to 627 acres and now includes several beautiful, paved hiking trails, beachfront activities, kayaking, playing fields, and a covered bridge.

Festival photographs Festival photographs (c. 1959-1971) by Rhode Island. Department of Environmental ManagementRhode Island State Archives

Whether you hit the trails, love the beach, camp away your summer weekends, or even ice fish, Rhode Islanders benefit from the work of the RI DEM that cares for our state's beaches, open spaces, and public gathering sites so Rhode Islanders can celebrate and enjoy the outdoors.

Ella Fitzgerald, Newport Jazz Festival

Tourism photographs captured quintessential events in notable places throughout the state in order to connect with new audiences. Prominent events included the Newport Folk festival and Newport Jazz Festival events that still take place annually. 

Festival photographs Louis Armstrong (c. 1959-1971) by Rhode Island. Department of Environmental ManagementRhode Island State Archives

Festival photograph, Louis Armstrong

This undated photograph, taken at the Newport Jazz Festival, is one of many preserved at the State Archives. Recreation photographs, 1959-1971, capture incredible every day moments and highlight the fantastic opportunities for exploration and play in Rhode Island.

Crescent Park aerial photograph, Rhode Island. Department of Public Works (1935-1970), c. 1990, From the collection of: Rhode Island State Archives
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Between the 1890s and 1980s, Crescent Park was a local amusement park that entertained the public across two centuries with its carousel, rides, and other attractions, before being added to the National Register as a Historic Landmark in 1985. Today, Crescent Park still serves the public by offering 10 acres of public space, including walking trails, picnic areas, an open-air theater, and views of Narragansett Bay.

Parks are public spaces- the development of these public spaces for the betterment of community is one of the many ways they serve to enrich, educate, and encourage. 

Camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, surfing, and kayaking are just some of the ways Rhode Islanders, and all who visit our beautiful state, can take advantage of the great outdoors in the Ocean State. 

Cobble Rock, Woonsocket/Smithfield, RI (c. 1905) by UnknownRhode Island State Archives

Cobble Rock, Blackstone River Valley Collection, c.1905

This photograph collection includes portraits, family photos, interior and exterior views, including captured moments of families, and landscapes and farm scenery. 

Cobble Rock, Blackstone River Valley Collection, c.1905

Images include Cobble Rock in Woonsocket, and other popular recreational or hiking destinations for northern Rhode Islanders. The photographs captured in this collection provide a glimpse into the natural environment of the early 20th century.

Preserving Rhode Island’s history is more than safeguarding documents and artifacts; it is maintaining the forests, fields, waterways, beaches, and open gathering spaces that connect us to the outside world. 

1st Day Hike Pins, Rhode Island. Department of Environmental Management, 2017-2023, From the collection of: Rhode Island State Archives
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What better way to kick off a new year than by taking in the beautiful sights of Rhode Island? Each year, RI DEM’s Parks & Recreation division hosts the Annual First Day Hike and presents limited edition commemorative pins to those who attend!  First Day Hikes are part of a national initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. 

We hope this exhibit sheds light on the physical spaces that shape our state's history, providing a way to connect to Rhode Island’s incredible landscapes and the history that happens here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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