Respecting The Moshassuck
Organizational History

Friends of the Moshassuck was founded in 1998. At that time, the lower part of the river really needed help. We talked to neighbors, and then found some partners and funders. The EPA and Save the Bay helped us start restoration work along the river at Collyer Field in Providence, and this site now has an active tree planting program. We have planted about 50 trees so far, and it is recognized as an important experiment in the supression of the invasive Japanese knotweed. We invite everyone interested in knotweed supression to visit the site and are happy to give tours.

Friends of the Moshassuck has a vision of a greenway linking the sights we have found to restore with those already protected sights in the Moshassuck watershed. The Nature Consevancy has preserved the Limerock headwaters in Lincoln and of course the Rhode Island DEM has responsibility for the lovely Olney Pond tributary at Lincoln Woods - but many gems occur in the lower part of the watershed, though often hidden from sight or suffering some of the ills of civilization's encroachment.

In March 2006 the Friends of the Moshassuck was designated the official Watershed Council for the Moshassuck and it's tributary the West River by the Rhode Island Rivers Council. In addition to advocating for our river we have developed partnerships with surrounding watershed groups such as the Ten Mile River Watershed Council and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council. We also cooperate with the RIDEM, Groundwork Providence, some of the watershed towns, and the URI Watershed Watch.

Friends of the Moshassuck, in addition to restoring sites along the river, has a focus on the ecology/economy interface — in other words a great interest in how restoring the health of ecosystems can help comunities achive prosperity. The Prosperity Project was therefore developed within Friends of the Moshassuck and recently began its own blog/website at

Words from Greg (an except from Providence Monthly Interview)

Q: Do you have a big project that you're currently working on?

A: The most active project of FOTM is the Collyer Field Forest Restoration project. Beyond the baseball field lies the Moshassuck River and an upland of filled wetland that was entirely overgrown with Japanese Knotweed, and invasive species. Along the River, here and at other places there was a riverine gallery forest, a line of trees, one or two trees deep at its largest, with relatively old trees, trees growing since the area had been first industrialized, coming up on the canal walls. Under them was some serious shade, and lo and behold the knotweed stopped where the trees shaded the place all day. In other words closed canopy forest suppresses knotweed.

The Collyer Field site, especially beyond right field, was a perfect place to attempt a forest restoration, but no one in New England seemed to have attempted such a thing. I wanted a methodology that a small community group could do with a minimum of scarce volunteer time. We have it. It requires planting only a few large trees a year, and taking care of them for the first growing season, then they are on their own, and they flourish. After 10 years you can really see a forest forming, and some evidence that the plan will eventually work once the forest canopy closes.

We are going to have a forest. Tours available. Some pictures are available at

Q: Can you tell me more about your support of the Urban Agricultural Task Force composting project? Are you looking to make it a more important part of your mission?

Friends of the Moshassuck has always had at the heart of its work two things. The restoration of the river and the revitalization of the community through which it passes. The Moshassuck is probably the most degraded river in RI, with a higher percentage of its watershed paved (over 50%), than any other. The headquarters are in a Nature Conservancy preserve (Limerock above the quarry in Lincoln) but even the headwaters are being polluted by runoff from the development above the pond. Serious bad erosion issues. The lower half of the river has been industrial forever, with the first mill on the river being built in 1675. It was the home of the cholera epidemic that forced Providence to build its first sewage treatment facility at Fields Point.

The lower river borders low income communities, immigrant communities, communities devastated economically since the textiles industry started heading south in the 1920’s. Revitalization is critical.

What distinguishes FOTM is our insistence that economic revitalization will only come about via ecological healing. Our watchwords are "You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems."

Based on my long agricultural experience in northern New England, the agricultural revitalization of the Moshassuck watershed has always been on the table. I actually ran a barn shoveling service in Maine with payment in manure, so composting is deep in my soul, and I really understand and have experience with how it transforms soil. I have therefore been an active member of the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force, with a variety of responsibilities including advocating at public hearings for changes in city documents to make the city more agriculturally friendly.

Some of my work on the task force has been funded by various grants. Eventually a partnership was formed between Southside Community Land Trust (spiritual home of the Urban Ag Task Force (and where the grants go)) and my part time employer The Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund so that I could put even more effort into the Compost Project. Recently I obtained another grant to fund even more of my time on the project. If you want more information on the Compost Project check out and look at the various compost files. It is a project bent on transformation.

But to bring it back to FOTM, FOTM has no official role, but it is the work I do there, the philosophical underpinnings and ecological knowledge I obtain through that work and the contacts I began assembling there, that helps the Compost Project move forward.

Life on the edge

Prosperity For Rhode Island is committed to the proposition that we must heal ecosystems in order for the economy to serve the human members of the community. I therefore devote a fair amount of time to looking at some of Rhode Islands most productive ecosystems to see how they are doing. My two areas of study are the two little ponds in the North Burial Ground in Providence, in the Moshassuck Watershed and the Swan Point section of the Seekonk River, a Upper Bay tidal zone with varied shoreline and protected forest.

This past week there have been large schools of very small menhaden in the shallows at Swan Point. The silver flashes when they turn sharply or jump through the air are very apparent, and we have even seen some of the little predators, barely bigger than the infant menhaden, darting among the schools. There were 3 herons hunting one day, yesterday we saw an osprey carrying a fish, and cormorants have been common.

I spent much of the spring wondering about the fate of the tadpoles in the Bull Frog pond in the NBG as none could be seen. There also seemed to be only 6 or so frogs along the western shore whereas in past years there had been many. With what seems to be an increasing fish population I was wondering if it was affecting the frogs. Or maybe the pond was just murkier. But in the last week I have seen many tadpoles jumping, more frogs along the shore, and an abundance of fish babies skittering in schools.

The little pond in the NBG is a breeding site for Gray Tree Frogs. The first year I noticed them they were changing from tadpoles to frogs in July, while this year early June seems to have been the season, with tadpoles disappearing around July 1 as the pond seemed to get stagnant and algae filled with the hot dry weather. Also this year I noticed a terrestrial frog away from the pond shortly after the frogs metamorphosed. i have no idea what the difference in timing means, so I guess I have something to look for next year.

Friends of the Moshassuck and the effort to get Greater Providence composting.

Watershed organizations rarely take on a task such as getting all the food waste out of the waste stream and get it composted so more food can be grown. And Friends of the Moshassuck is not leading efforts to increase the amount of compost produced in Rhode Island. But many of the people associated with Friends of the Moshassuck have some connection to the Urban Agriculture Task Force compost project. It is not a surprise that FOTM would be connected to the people focused on turning food waste into compost as Friends of the Moshassuck has always been a bit different. From day one it has had an interest in exploring all of the economy/ecology interface in its community. We have tried to think like a watershed, holistically. FOTM has always done the traditional watershed activities, clean ups, water testing, and tree plantings in the watershed. Its tree planting project is an effort to turn a field of invasive Japanese Knotweed back into a New England semi natural forest along the river, an experiment that does not seem to be running anywhere else in urban New England. But really restoring the watershed is going to take much more than this. It is going to take revitalizing the human communities along the river as well. And that is going to take compost.

The Moshassuck is one of the oldest industrial watersheds in North America, with dams and mills beginning in the 1670’s. In the late 19th century the entire lower river was walled off by mills, as well as being toxic and foul smelling. But with the demise of American manufacturing some of the communities along the river have become somewhat impoverished, while the water in the river has become cleaner. And more alive . Friends of the Moshassuck is founded upon the principles that ending poverty and healing ecosystems are intimately intertwined, and therefore turning food waste into compost instead of trash, and then using the compost as a community development tool as well as a tool for ecological healing, is right up our alley.

As we begin 2010 the only part of the RI economy that is thriving is agriculture. The number of farms and farmers is growing, as is the availability of local foods on the market. It is thriving through a recession that is connected to the fact that the Earth is reaching ecological limits. Over the next few years it is going to become more apparent that RI agriculture is going to be more important in the prosperity of our communities. But without more compost, agriculture will stumble, the fertility of the soil will fail. Food waste can be turned into compost, instead of landfilling it and producing the greenhouse gas methane as it rots. Communities across the country are starting to do this. Composting allows the landfill to have a longer life, saves money for towns, improves our carbon footprint, and provides critical resources and jobs in the community. And for us watershed lovers, it can reduce the amount of pavement based polluted runoff that reaches the Mighty Mo each time it rains.

What is not to like about the idea? Therefore Friends of the Moshassuck will be using its network to spread the word and build support for the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force’s compost project. For more information check out the blog.

Anyone interested in helping to restore sites along the Moshassuck River, or who has a site they love along the river, is encouraged to contact us.


37 Sixth Street
Providence, RI 02906

Telephone: 401-331-0529

© 2006-2021 Friends of the Moshassuck, all rights reserved. Images by, Mr. Ducke, and Jim Hendrickson.