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Kayakers from far and wide join in New Year tradition



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Vanessa and “Ganghis” Hahn of Gilford battled their way through the final rapids beneath the trestle in Franklin on New Year’s Day, where crowds lined the bridge and the Winnipesaukee River Trail to watch the annual kayaking spectacle, all part of the First Day Franklin celebration last Sunday. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
January 04, 2012
FRANKLIN — First Day Franklin rang in 2012 in fine fashion as people lined the bridge at Trestle View Park on Central Street, as well as the Winnipesaukee River Trail, all to get a glimpse of the scores of kayakers who took to the roiling waters of the river in a long standing New Year's Day tradition.

While kayaking the Winnipesaukee on the first of January has been a tradition for many years, it was seven years ago that the City of Franklin decided to make the white water enthusiasts' presence a community celebration. Since that time, a warming tent filled with hot drinks and foods is erected at the downtown park each New Year's Day as a gathering place for visitors, and the crowds have continued to grow.

"This just gets bigger and bigger every year. It's unseasonably warm this year, which is really nice and helpful in bringing people out. We just missed the frigid weather that's coming by a couple days," said Leigh Webb, one of the many volunteer organizers of the event.

Each year, Webb said, they have tried to add more pleasure to the experience, and for 2012, the group concentrated on better traffic flow to increase safety for pedestrians and vehicles traveling into Franklin.

On the river, traffic also moved smoothly last weekend. One by one, the colorful boats made their way through the final set of rapids, where icy waters splashed over the bows

"I think you have to be a little bit crazy to do this," said one spectator as the first kayak came into sight.

Roland Soucy of Belmont was among the spectators, and as a senior kayaker himself, he admired the skills he saw as the boaters entered the final rapids and headed for the landing at Trestle View Park.

"This is the highest I've seen the water in a long time. It's amazing to watch, and I wish I could do it, but I'm not qualified for the more advanced level like this," Soucy said.

Those who dared to challenge the many rapids along the route thought the journey was exhilarating, and the temperatures, in the 40's last Sunday, made their experience all the better. The participants came from all across New England, and as far away as New Jersey, but some locals also took to the waters, too.

For Vanessa Hahn and her husband "Ganghis" of Gilford, it was their inaugural New Year's Day run, and they said it was worth every minute. The pair rode the rapids in their two-man Paddle Cat, an inflatable pontoon-style craft, and said it handled quite well for its first cold-river expedition.

"We weren't sure how it would do because it's inflatable, but we made some adjustments to the air pressure and it was awesome. Worked out just fine," said Hahn.

The husband and wife team were dressed in wet suits, Ganghis sporting a pair of tropical swim trunks over his outfit, and jokingly put out a plea for someone to sponsor them with the more expensive dry suits for future winter adventures.

"Everyone else did this in dry suits, but we didn't. We need a sponsor. They can even put logos on them," he laughed.

As each group of kayakers finally arrived at the park, they headed for the tent, not so much for the heat this year, but for the food.

"I've got a date with a bowl of chili," one man exclaimed upon landing his craft.

Besides chili and hot soups, Hoppin' John was another item served by the Franklin Rotary. The southern dish, made with black-eyed peas, is traditionally said to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.

Booths from local charitable organizations, information on upcoming Winter Carnival events and a Trek bicycle raffle to benefit the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County were also situated in the park to promote the Greater Franklin area.

"It's our way of saying Franklin is a welcoming community, and we hope people will come here to enjoy it," said Webb.

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