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New Preservation Approach Aims to Save Cultural Landscape

Congress designates `heritage areas' to achieve environmental, economic, and historic-preservation goals

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JIM PEPPER pushes aside brambles, strides across spongy bottom land, and scrambles up a rocky embankment. About 50 yards from the road, he stops and looks around at what appears to be nothing but a patch of Rhode Island woods.

``We're standing in the mill,'' he says. ``The water ran down this trough,'' he explains, gesturing to stone walls and arches under the overgrowth.

Mr. Pepper is a visionary with a twist. Not only can he peer into the future to see what might be, he also can gaze into the past to see what has been. Now he is seeing Mammoth Mill, once a bustling woolen factory on the Blackstone River in North Smithfield, R.I. These neglected ruins are all that remain of the 1836 mill, which was torn down in 1930 - but to Pepper, they are the substance of things hoped for.

Pepper is the executive director of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission. He has guided a pair of journalists to this obscure spot to make a point about his job and the work of the commission.

``Mammoth Mill is symbolic of so many places in this valley that are unknown and unseen. Our job is to make them known,'' he says. Although Pepper has no plans for the site yet, his imagination already is leaping ahead to a day when the plot, tidied up and properly ``interpreted'' through signs and diagrams, may inform tourists about America's early industrialization.

The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is one of five regions that have been designated ``American Heritage Areas'' by Congress. Besides the Blackstone River Valley in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, there are the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor in Illinois, the Delaware and Lehigh Canal National Heritage Corridor in eastern Pennsylvania, the America's Industrial Heritage Project in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor in Connecticut, which Congress approved just this fall.

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