The vision: Replacing old mill ruins with a whitewater park in Franklin

The vision: Replacing old mill ruins with a whitewater park in Frankli

Elodie Reed | Concord Monitor

On a hot weekday, Marty Parichand nonchalantly strolled alongside a local carwash. He passed some concrete barriers and a “no camping” sign. As he tromped into an overgrown, litter-covered trailhead, he dove into his vision for a new outdoor adventure park.

Parichand, who runs Outdoor New England in Franklin, wants to take a city-owned tract of land along the Winnipesaukee River and transform it into a central attraction and economic hub. He hopes to install whitewater paddling amenities, a mountain bike pump track, a community garden and an “eco-village” campsite, plus event space.

“The idea is railroad tracks toward the river,” Parichand said.

The area was formerly home to three paper mills, though just their foundations remain today. Old railroad tracks still run through the trees and brush until they cross over open water along the Sulphite Bridge, rumored to be the only “upside-down” trestle bridge in the country.

“It used to bring sulphur to the mills,” said Parichand.

Now, hopefully, the bridge will bring in visitors interested in outdoor sports. Before converting the abandoned land, however, Parichand and non-profit PermaCityLife need to raise $45,000 to get the project going.

So far, the project’s Indiegogo campaign has raised about $5,000. A fundraising barbeque will be held Aug. 20 in the city’s downtown sculpture park.

Even if that money – $28,000 for a consultation with McLaughlin Whitewater, $15,000 for a pump track master plan by Northfield-based Highland Mountain Bike Park, and $2,000 for campaign fees – comes through, Parichand will still have plenty of work to do.

He has been in touch with the state’s Department of Environmental Services, asking for more frequent dam releases in order to make the 1-mile stretch of the Winnipesaukee River a reliable place for paddlers.

Right now, releases are done only twice a year, on New Year’s Day and in June for a whitewater slalom race. Those releases are for days at a time, Parichand said, and he would just ask that smaller, more regular releases – between 10 and 20 days total – are done using the same amount of water.

The goal, Parichand said, would be “to promote recreational use and not to waste an ounce of water.” Two flow studies have been done with DES thus far, and Parichand said a third is under way.

Parichand will also need to work with the city of Franklin, though he said so far, officials have been very supportive. He added that the hope isn’t to buy the 9.3 acres from the city, but to use it in a positive way for all.

“We would rather partner with them on the parcel and create something truly iconic,” Parichand said.

Even though the project is in the early stages, Franklin City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said it’s an engaging concept.

“The whitewater park idea is exciting!” Dragon wrote in an email. “I love the thought of using Franklin’s natural resources as part of an overall economic development plan for the downtown. I look forward to working with Marty and others as details begin to take shape.”

Colby-Sawyer College students, through a new sustainability program, are also already helping Parichand with the project through PermaCityLife.

“We’re surely getting all the necessary support,” he said.

If all initial funds are raised, Parichand said it would take about six months to draw up detailed plans for the park. The plans would include a bike pump track, which would have jumps and obstacles for people of all abilities, and whitewater boating features, along with moving boulders in the river to strategically create deeper, faster moving waters.

As for the park itself, Parichand said it’s already in pretty good shape.

“It’s already fairly graded,” he said. Some old equipment would be removed – he stood in the skeleton of an old building and explained that it would most likely be the entryway for the park – but other, historical features would be incorporated into the park’s landscape.

Old granite canals, for instance, might be used as ramps for the bike park. Most of the trees would stay, too. Parichand couldn’t nail down a timeline for completion.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces – the first step is to get it planned,” he said. “Change doesn’t have to take a long time.”

And the payoff could be a game changer. Parichand has done an economic impact analysis with the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, which shows the park potentially bringing in millions of dollars of tourism to Franklin.

It would be the only whitewater paddling park in New England (there are 88 in the United States) he said, meaning it would be a big draw for the region.

“We’re talking about $6.8 million in direct spending in this city,” Parichand said. He thinks his project could help revitalize downtown and spark the local economy.

“If we could attract 100,000 people into the city of Franklin on an annual, reoccurring basis . . . that puts Franklin on a path to fix every major problem it has.”

Not only that, but Parichand recognizes the positive opportunity outdoor sports can provide to youth. And he wants to leave behind something more constructive than abandoned mill ruins along the Winnipesaukee’s river banks.

“These sports reach the vulnerable,” Parichand said. “I fully believe we can do more for our kids, for our residents, and that starts with getting them outside.”