A central New Hampshire city is transforming its downtown, creating a 13-acre park where visitors can whitewater raft, surf, bike, and camp.
Construction begins in July on Mill City Park at Franklin Falls, billed as the first whitewater park in New England. The park plans to open in September.
“There’s 300 whitewater parks across the country and there’s not one here,” said Marty Parichand, founder of Mill City Park. “It’ll totally change the game for Franklin and it will do so with free outdoor recreation.”
The free park, funded by $2.5 million in grant money and private donations, will offer kayaking, boogie boarding, whitewater rafting, and surfing on Winnipesaukee River year-round, as well as walking and biking trails, camping, water play areas for kids, and an amphitheater. The park will attract about 162,000 visitors who will spend about $7 million annually in the region, Parichand said.
The park will be built in phases and is expected to wrap up construction in 2022.
“It’s our hope that campsites and trails are open to the public this summer,” Parichand said.
There will be 10 to 20 cabin and tent campsites, Parichand said, and an amphitheater which will be built during a later stage. The revenue from the campsites will help maintain the park, he added.
The river is “fast and steep” — it drops 77 feet per mile — and kayakers have been using it for years, said Judie Milner, the city manager.
“You feel like you are in the middle of the White Mountains,” said Milner about being out on the river. “You have zero idea that there’s a city anywhere near you.”
She envisions park goers exploring downtown shops and restaurants after a fun day on the river.
Mill City Park is not building rapids, but surf waves, Parichand said. Perpetual waves will be built into the river.
“Surfing like you’d see in the ocean, you’ll be able to do that in our river,” Parichand said.
Visitors without equipment can rent it from Outdoor New England in Franklin, an outdoor outfitter and retailer owned by Parichand.
“We’ll have boards and we already have boats that people can rent,” he said. “We already teach whitewater kayaking. We teach a whole bunch of things. So this will be in Outdoor New England’s wheelhouse to try to connect people if they don’t have the right equipment or knowledge.”
Parichand said the park can help turn the city around. He said for every two people in the water, eight to 10 people will watch.
“And those people are then the driving force on having more walk-in business, more restaurants, more breweries, more specialty retailers,” he said.
The park has been six years in the making.
“People were a little bit nervous to embrace it in the beginning,” said Milner. “Our last mills — we’re a mill town — closed in the early 70s and there’s been no real movement since then to reinvent ourselves.”
But “the excitement is growing” over the park, she said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort to get to this point,” Parichand said. “With any kind of social movement it takes time and effort for people to jump on board.”
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