It wasn’t easy selecting my exact picture for the Burrillville Earth Day time capsule competition, but from the moment the committee designed the photo contest, I had a favorite place in Burrillville in mind: Pulaski State Park and Recreation Area.
While the park headquarters have a Chepachet address, most of the pond and surrounding trails cross the town line into Burrillville.
The friend who first introduced me to this quiet corner of the world years ago told me it was her favorite place, and used words like “magical” to describe the pristine waters and wildlife-rich hiking trails that run through the area.
Years later, another close friend began renting the park’s pavilions for her daughter’s annual birthday parties, and the reaction from guests who hadn’t been before was always the same: “what a beautiful park!” The party has become a favorite annual ritual, and while I wasn’t among those able to stay late last year, a small crowd shared laughs under a rented pavilion well into a June evening in 2019.
In 2018, when environmental activists from across the state wanted to show the public exactly what was at stake if a proposed power plant in Burrillville was approved by authorities, I wasn’t surprised that they chose this same park as their venue.
In truth, the park has presented a bit of a problem for me from a journalistic perspective.
On dozens of stories through 2018 and 2019, I did my best to set aside my personal fondness for this special place while reporting on the power plant hearings. As expert after expert testified about how the plant – which would have been situated just miles from the park – would cause irreparable harm, I tried not to imagine how a project like the one proposed by Invenergy would change this environment and keep my personal feelings out of my reporting – and it wasn’t easy.
With the proposal for the plant now officially defeated, for me, this “favorite place,” has taken on an even deeper meaning. It represents the power of citizen action. It represents my hope for Democracy.
Something unique happened in Burrillville, and while I was admittedly a little late to the party – the plant was first proposed in 2015, and this news website didn’t launch until 2018 – it was with great hope and admiration that I watched the proceedings.
The people I spoke to throughout those two years of reporting weren’t just opposed to the power plant: they were animated, alive, educated and inspired by their activism against it. Time and time again, I heard of relationships built through mutual opposition. I saw people who had never before been politically involved motivated to testify against the project. I saw political lines blurred in the fight against a seemingly gigantic enemy, as neighbors gathered to hold bake sales and car washes to fight a multi-billion corporation.
The passion extended to other areas as well, as newly-involved residents began attending government meetings and even running for office, and other community efforts began to transform the town. People were educating themselves about energy markets. They were holding government accountable and fighting what they saw as an injustice: an approval process that took too much control out of the hands of local government.
And they won.
I’ve chosen a career in journalism because I believe in Democracy, and I know that our government only works when people are educated and inspired to participate. In Burrillville, an organized opposition managed to exemplify exactly what I feel our country is all about.
The photo I choose shows kids at the party grabbing candy recently freed from a busted pinata – also part of our annual tradition. Behind them is a view of the pavilion and the trees and pond beyond.
And to share a rare opinion, on a news website where I try my best every day to adhere to the traditional journalistic principal of non-bias, I will admit: I celebrated the power plant’s defeat along with others in northern Rhode Island, and the preservation of my favorite place in town.