The Laconia Daily Sun | Adam Drapcho | July 12, 2021
FRANKLIN — Marty Parichand wrote pages and pages of draft comments in preparation for Monday morning’s moment, the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Northeast’s first whitewater park. He tossed them all, though.
“This is a real surreal moment,” he told the crowd of people gathered, despite a light rain, to celebrate the day that the dream Parichand brought to Franklin five years ago was becoming a reality. His dream was to turn the Winnipesaukee River, as it flows into downtown Franklin, into a playground for paddlers.
To do that, though, he had to convince others that, not only was it a good idea, but that it was even possible. After all, the project would take lots of money, as well as cooperation from City Hall and state government.
“For me, personally, it has been a long journey,” Parichand told the crowd. “I put everything I had into something I believed in. As people, I don’t think we do that enough. We put ourselves in safe spaces, we walk a line that someone else put (there) for us.”
Until Monday morning, when contractor Alvin J. Coleman’s crew were waiting for the speakers to finish so they could begin preparing the site for their heavy equipment, all of Parichand’s conversations had been about possibilities, theoreticals that, if put in place, could spell a brighter future for a city long down on its luck.
“Everything we’ve done up to this point has been intangible,” Parichand said. But, looking out at the faces in front of him, none of which he knew before relocating to Franklin five years ago, he said the intangibles still hold water for him. “I’ve very excited to surf until my arms fall off,” he said, “but the relationships I’ve found with all of you are more important.”
Plans for Mill City Park include the creation of three whitewater features – as well as a stretch of rapids – covering 1,200 feet of the river. Improvements to the shoreline will include a walking path, grandstand seating and an amphitheater for people who wish to stay dry yet still take in the action.
The park is expected to draw whitewater enthusiasts from far away, and they are going to spend millions of dollars when they come to Franklin, Parichand said.
That promise has already prompted investment in downtown. Vulgar Brewing Company previously cited the park project as among its reasons for locating on Central Avenue, and there are new places to get lunch or a cup of coffee within steps of where paddlers will take their boats out of the river after their run.
Olivia Zink, interim mayor of Franklin, said more investments are underway. A developer purchased an old mill building on the riverbank and is planning a $20 million refurbishment that will house both people and another brewery. She said that kind of money wouldn’t have been spent if not for the whitewater park.
Robert Desrochers Sr., a city councilor who has lived in Franklin all of his life, said the project has “sparked a new light” for the city. “I was here when the mills closed in the ‘70s. Shortly after the mills closed, the businesses closed.” There used to be shoe and clothing stores, a theater, and lunch spots that would have lines out the door each day, he recalled. The city hasn’t had that kind of economic activity since.
The paddlers could change that, though. Scott Crowder, director of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development, said the recreation industry generates 3.2% of the state’s overall Gross Domestic Product, and currently employs 37,000 of its residents. Franklin already has a head start on becoming a recreation hub, since there are several opportunities nearby for mountain biking, both for the casual biker as well as the thrill-seeker.
“It’s amazing to see that this city, which was built on the back of the river, is being revitalized on the back of the river,” Crowder said.
The project isn’t just about economics, but also pride, said Jeremy Laucks, executive director of the Mill City Park organization. The park will just be one step, he said, and many more steps will be required.
“In the community as a whole, we have a lot of work to do,” Laucks said.
Laucks, who is a former competitive paddler, said it was remarkable that the group gathered on Monday had something to celebrate. He has seen, in other places, the impact that such a park can have on a community, “but I’ve also heard about all the parks that never happened.” The fact that Mill City Park is one of the few to succeed, he said, was due to Parichand.
“It turns out, Marty is a lot more stubborn than a lot of people, he also likes to surround himself with other people who are equally stubborn,” Laucks said.
The park won’t solve all of Franklin’s problems, he said, but if the city can build the Northeast’s only whitewater park, there’s reason to believe it can find a solution to its schools, roads and other issues, he said. “There’s a lot of stubborn people who will make sure of that.”