Union Leader | John Koziol | July 13, 2021
FRANKLIN — Come September, kayakers could be riding waves on the Winnipesaukee River at New England’s first whitewater park.
Construction is expected to begin this week on the first phase of Mill City Park, which officials say may eventually attract as many as 150,000 visitors a year to the city. The downtown park’s first element will be an in-water structure that creates a wave that can be kayaked, surfed or rafted.
Whitewater parks have been developed around the country as a way for communities to take advantage of their natural assets and attract tourist dollars. The state Department of Business and Economic Affairs says the $3.5 million Mill City Park could generate $7 million annually.
Longtime kayaker Jeremy Laucks, who is on Mill City Park’s board of directors, says he has competed in whitewater parks built by communities like Franklin. He also knows of other towns that considered but never built them. On Monday, he joined local and state leaders to celebrate a groundbreaking during a ceremony at Trestle View Park.
Five years ago, fellow kayaking enthusiast Marty Parichand, owner of the Outdoor New England outfitters in Franklin, told Laucks about the idea for Mill City Park. Laucks thought it was a good idea but was skeptical whether it could be accomplished in Franklin.
A view on Monday of the Winnipesaukee River as it crosses beneath Central Street in Franklin. - John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent
“It turns out that Marty is a lot more stubborn than other people,” Laucks joked, adding that Parichand and Mill City Park supporters have also been very successful in terms of obtaining funds and approvals.
“In the scale of doing these things,” said Laucks, Mill City Park has advanced “remarkably fast.”
In addition to the wave feature and a viewing area below Trestle View Park, the 11-acre Mill City Park will eventually include two more viewing areas on its upper section, as well as an amphitheater, a walking trail, parkour area, climbing wall, community garden, water play areas and a mountain-bike track.
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., told the groundbreaking audience that she has been in Franklin many times to work with city officials on projects, but whenever she was there, “I kept hearing about this Mill City Park.”
“To see the river come back” and for it to again become an economic driver of the city “is very exciting,” said Kuster, who recently voted in favor of the INVEST in America Act, which among other things, would bring $1.2 million to Franklin for construction of a pedestrian walkway on a trestle bridge that connects Mill City Park with Trestle View Park.
Mill City Park Executive Director Marty Parichand, left, and Corbett Leith, a whitewater coach at Proctor Academy, stand alongside the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin’s Trestle View Park, where a ground-breaking ceremony was held for Mill City Park, the first whitewater park in the Northeast. - John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent
“Bring the sweat and energy,” Kuster urged Mill City Park supporters, “and we’ll bring the federal dollars,” in referring to herself and U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who were also recognized by Laucks for their support of Mill City Park.
Parichand said Mill City Park is being built in “reverse order,” explaining that the wave structure “is the most accessible.”
Corbett Leith said that just having the wave feature in place will bring him and his students to Franklin from Proctor Academy in nearby Andover.
Leith, a teacher and the school’s whitewater slalom coach, said the Winnipesaukee already “is one of our favorite rivers” on which to train, because it is accessible, even in low-water conditions.
From a coaching and team-development perspective, Mill City Park and the wave feature are “amazing,” said Leith, who sees the facility as a big draw for locals and kayakers “from all over New England.”
Once a U.S. Olympic kayaking hopeful — “I never made the team but had a lot of fun trying” — Leith said he hopes Mill City Park and the sight of kayakers having fun will inspire local kids to get excited and involved in the sport.
“People travel to kayak and they travel for the water,” Leith said.