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In the summer of 2005, the partners of GSD Event Productions were on the hook to promote the national cyclo-cross championships. Three venues had been rejected. Lyle Fulkerson brazenly asked Providence officials to hold the event on the grounds of the Rhode Island State House.After flatly rejecting that proposal, officials directed him to Roger Williams Park, just three miles south. Each of the three partners toured the park separately; each were stunned. The amenities, the topography, and the beauty of the park sang out. They had found a Valhalla of American cyclo-cross.
The park is not simply named for Williams; this park is the last parcel of the land granted to him by Canonicus, chief of the Narragansett nation, when he arrived in 1638. Williams’ great-great-great granddaughter Betsey Williams bequeathed the land to the people of Providence in 1871.
The city commissioned landscape architect Horace Cleveland, to design the park. After 18 years of work, Cleveland finished “The Jewel of Providence” in 1896.
The award-winning 427-acre park attracts more than 2 million visitors per year and has been cited by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s premier historic urban parks. The park has undergone several expansions and modifications. In 1904 the city hired the Olmsted Brothers to do some of the landscape design. This firm included the son and nephew of the famous Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace, who had died by then.
The centerpiece of the race venue is the Temple to Music. Made of Vermont marble, the Temple was dedicated in 1924 and was a gift from a local olive oil merchant.
Currently the park contains the nation’s third oldest zoo, the Roger Williams Park Zoo, described as the finest zoo in New England by The Boston Globe. Also in the park visitors can see the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, the newly opened Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, the Japanese Gardens, the Victorian Rose Gardens, the Providence Police Department’s Mounted Command center, the Dalrymple Boathouse and boat rentals, historical tours, a Carousel Village for children that includes the “Hasbro Boundless Playground” which is accessible for handicapped children, and the Roger Williams Park Casino.
Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, the namesake of the park in which the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival is held. Williams had been exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his beliefs in the separation of church and state. Given title by the Narragansett tribe, Williams found Rhode Island based as a haven for religious freedom.
Rhode Island shed the first blood of the American Revolution in 1772 – three years before Lexington and Concord – during the Gaspee’ Affair when locals attacked and burned the HMS Gaspee’ off Warwick.
During the Revolution, Rhode Island’s Nathanael Greene rose to fame. With no formal military training, Greene rose to the rank of general and led forces at Brandywine, Germantown, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse.
In the 19th Century Providence developed as a center of manufacturing with a large immigrant population. Throughout the 20th Century, Providence remained a minor league sibling to the major league Boston just 60 miles to the north. While struggling to recover from the Great Depression, Providence was slammed by the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Flood water marks have remained on downtown buildings.
In the 1970s, city leaders peeled back the industrials skin to reveal the city’s natural beauty. Railroads were put underground; the Providence River was uncovered. Providence Place Mall and Waterplace Park were developed and the charm of College Hill and Brown University sparkled. This compact downtown developed a reputation as home to some of New England’s best restaurants.
Recently Rhode Island embraced bicycles as part of its transportation and recreation mix. The Ocean State is the home of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, building a continuous bike path from Maine to Florida. And here, the Greenway pivots westward with three great bike paths. The East Bay Bike Path. The Blackstone River Bikeway, and the Washington Secondary Rail Trail will ultimately connect Providence to Worcester, Newport and Connecticut.
When organizers sought a venue for the 2005 U.S. National Cyclo-cross Championships, they were drawn to the city’s great hotels and restaurants. With T.F. Green Airport just eight miles from downtown Providence, service to Providence Station via Amtrak, and Interstate 95 linking all , those promoters simply needed to find a great venue. With the discovery of Roger Williams Park they realized Providence truly could be divine.