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Water powering Franklin revitalization

Proposed whitewater park receives necessary permits

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by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

Marty Parichand shows off the proposed design of part of the Mill City Park project inside his Outdoor New England store in downtown Franklin. (Photo by Joshua Spaulding) (click for larger version)
December 02, 2020
FRANKLIN — Remember when a group of people in Boston were making a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics?

As it turns out, that bid, which eventually was abandoned, has led to a huge effort to revitalize downtown Franklin, and that effort reached another milestone last month when Mill City Park became the first fully-permitted whitewater park in New England.

Marty Parichand, Executive Director of Mill City Park, shared the good news and also some history and updates on the non-profit venture, which is planning to not only build a whitewater park on the Winnipesaukee River, but also a number of other experiences along the river banks.

Back in 2015, Parichand was scouting locations for a whitewater course that could be used for the proposed Boston Olympics but also create something that could be used for years to come.

"Usually, whitewater courses fall in disarray (after the Olympics)," Parichand said. "My idea was to come up with the course and then let it be used for the Olympics."

But, when the Olympic bid was abandoned, Parichand had all the information but nothing to do with it.

He connected with Todd Workman of PermaCityLife, which had been working to revitalize downtown Franklin. He also knew the city had the great rapids and knew that people would come to the area to paddle.

"He knew a whitewater park could be an anchor (to downtown)," Parichand said. "I didn't have to sell him on the idea."

Mill City Park's whitewater park would use about 1,200 feet of the Winnipesaukee River and would include a couple of underwater elements to create the whitewater and then another underwater element near the Central Avenue bridge to create an area where surfers could replicate the ocean conditions.

"This river is the right river," Parichand said, noting it drops 77 feet per mile, which is double some of the famous whitewater runs in Maine and other New England areas.

"You can create the same amount of power with a smaller river," Parichand said of the drop.

The whitewater run would end just past the Central Avenue bridge at Trestle View Park, which will get an upgrade with the Mill City Park plan. The plan calls for a boardwalk along the river and an amphitheater where spectators could watch the action at the end of the whitewater park.

At the other end of the run, on the other side of the river past the Central Avenue bridge, the group is working on extending the road into what will be a 24-car parking lot, a bathhouse and a timber frame pavilion, which they have received a $400,000 Land and Water Conservation grant to construct.

"Right now, that land is not utilized," Parichand said, noting that the former mill properties would be utilized by Mill City Park to create a number of different activities, including a pump track for mountain bikes, a walking path, a viewing area and the aforementioned pavilion and bathhouse.

Part of the plan also includes refurbishing the trestle that crosses the Winnipesaukee River next to the Central Avenue bridge. State officials were out at the site before Thanksgiving looking at the trestle to determine if the trestle could be refurbished. Mill City Park received a Transportation Alternative Program grant from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to work on that project.

Because Mill City Park would be disturbing soil with the project, the Department of Environmental Services requires some mitigation. To solve that, the plan is to put 21 acres of land on the northside of the river out to Cross Mill Road, which is all owned by the city, into conservation easement.

"The biggest implication here is the economic piece," Parichand said. "For every one person in the water, there's four to 10 people who come to watch. They'll be the drive for economic development downtown."

Parichand noted that the Stevens Mill property, which sits along the river, has recently been purchased and the owner has promised to put 32 million dollars into a mixed residential and commercial space. A brewery recently moved to town from Texas and a couple of new restaurants have also gone in, as excitement about the whitewater park continues to grow.

The hope for Parichand is to have the Trestle View Park portion of the project done by mid-July of 2021 and the hope would be to have two of the elements in place in the river completed next year. The organization has applied for another Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to build the surf wave feature and they will know if they got accepted for that in January.

"We could have two features in 2021," Parichand said. "We'll definitely have one, hopefully we'll have two."

Unfortunately, the pandemic cancelled many of the events that Mill City Park was planning on hosting or attending to promote the whitewater park, so Parichand is eager to continue to get the word out to those in the community who might be interested in helping in any way.

The hope, Parichand stated, is to have the river that powered Franklin for so long in the form of the many mills along its banks, once again power the city as it is revitalized and continues to grow in a new direction.

For those interested in more information, Mill City Park has a site on Facebook where updates are posted and information is also available at millcitypark.com. Additionally, those looking for more in-person updates, can stop in at Outdoor New England on Central Avenue in downtown Franklin.

Sports Editor Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or josh@salmonpress.news.

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