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Kayakers celebrate 30 years of riding the rapids on New Years Day

The first of the kayakers on New Years Day in Franklin picks his way through the rapids just below the old Upside Down Covered Bridge along the Winnipesaukee River Trail, seeking the safest path with the most thrills as he heads for Trestle View Park in Franklin. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
January 05, 2011
FRANKLIN — Though New Year's Day dawned a bit warmer than in years past, few who gathered at Trestle Park in Franklin considered it warm enough for a kayak trip through the churning waters of the Winnipesaukee River. But to white water enthusiasts, it was the perfect day for a "run" or two or three for what has become an annual tradition.

Most of those challenging the white water of the Winnipesaukee River were members of the Merrimack Valley Paddlers, who began the tradition 30 years ago as a protest to a proposal to build a dam, which would ultimately dry up portions of the river. That protest later turned into an annual celebration of the swift conditions and the thrill of an icy winter run.

"If you think about it, we could potentially be the first kayakers on the eastern seaboard each year," said Joe Tammaro of Billerica, Mass., as he took a break in between his river runs on Saturday.

To make sure he had a shot at holding that distinction for 2011, Tammaro said his first run came at dawn and by 11 a.m. he had already made several runs through the rapids between Cross Mill Road in Northfield and the landing area at Trestle View Park in Franklin. Gulping down some stew provided by the crew of First Day Franklin, Tammaro soon headed back to the launch area for his run down the river.

For Nancy Gero, a 15-year member of Merrimack Valley Paddlers, it was a bit frustrating to watch from the bridge on Central Street, but she had another role to play. Gero and other members were readying a meal at the United Universalist Church for everyone who wanted a hot meal when the white water thrills and chills were over.

Others along the bridge did not share Gero's frustrations, however, and were quite willing to wait, cameras at the ready, as the more daring paddled into view for the final and most challenging rapids along the route.

Bruce Martineau and his wife moved to Tilton from Massachusetts this past summer and brought friends Kenny and Cathy Strum from Saugus, Mass., to witness the tradition after reading about it in the paper.

"This is very exciting. I've never seen anything like it before," said Cathy Strum.

Her husband was just as excited to watch the paddlers come around the final bend for the rapids, saying he always enjoyed trying things at least once but winter kayaking had never been on that list.

"We've had a chance to see this now and that's what we like to do, enjoy the different experiences out there," he said.

Scott, one of the many kayakers who traveled to the region for the day, said the paddling was as much fun as ever and, with the warmer temperatures and lower snow pack, perhaps even a bit more so than recent years.

"It's such a nice day out that getting splashed isn't even a bother for me this year," he said.

While the tradition of a New Years Day river run has gone on for three decades, it has only been in the past six years that the kayak club has been joined by Choose Franklin, whose participation has helped turn the day into a bigger event by providing free coffee, donuts, homemade cookies, stew, chili beneath a large tent. Franklin Savings Bank and BJ's Wholesale Club in Tilton also lent a hand with the food, drinks and utensils while members of Webster Place Recovery Center assisted by setting up and taking down the large tent.

Sarah Stanley, marketing director for FSB, was among those greeting kayakers and spectators alike at the warming center and said she was happy to be a part of the annual First Day Franklin event.

"It's just so nice to see so many people coming out to enjoy our tradition here in Franklin. It's a great family event and a fun way to start the new year. We can't say enough for all those who helped make it a success once again," she said.

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