LACONIA DAILY SUN | THOMAS P. CALDWELL
Efforts to create New England’s first whitewater park got a double infusion of capital on Monday when Franklin Savings Bank pledged $250,000 and the Franklin City Council accepted the first portion of a $170,000 federal grant in support of the project.
Marty Parichand, owner of Outdoor New England, a shop that sells kayaking gear, had founded the nonprofit Mill City Park to promote the development of a whitewater park on the Winnipesaukee River.
The section of the river between Cross Mill Road in Tilton and Trestle View Park in downtown Franklin is a popular kayaking run, dropping an average of 77 feet per mile over the 1.25-mile distance.
“Kayakers already know this river,” Parichand said, “but this will bring other people to see it, as well.” Parichand said he had been seeking a federal Economic Development Association grant for preliminary engineering, and found there was a $25,000 shortfall in funds.
“I spoke with Ron Magoon [president and chief executive officer of Franklin Savings Bank] and said, ‘We have $5,000 in our bank account and are $20,000 short in making up the difference,” Parichand said. “He responded, ‘We’ve been working on our own to see how we could support the project, and we’re thinking of something much bigger.’”
During Monday’s ceremony, Charlie Chandler, chairman of the Franklin Savings Bank Board of Directors, said the board voted unanimously to give $250,000 in support of the project, of which $125,000 would be immediately available.
“This seed money will see that this project is transformative for Franklin,” Chandler said.
Once a booming mill town, Franklin today has many dormant mill buildings and the city has struggled to recover from the factory closings. Parichand sees the whitewater park as “the centerpiece of the largest adaptive reuse effort in Franklin’s history, turning the downtown into a vibrant micro-urban centerpiece.”
Acting City Manager Judie Milner said the Franklin City Council formally accepted $129,870 in grant and matching revenues on Monday night. The money represents the portion of funding available from the Fiscal Year 2017 federal budget, with the remainder of the $170,000 grant to come from the 2018 budget, which started Oct. 1, once that budget has been approved.
The federal grant will cover the cost of engineering, permitting, and survey work associated with the whitewater park, covering the lower 1,000-foot section of the river. A second phase would cover the upstream portion as far as Cross Mill Road.
“They’ll be taking pictures of what the river looks like underneath to plan the features of the whitewater park in the correct spots, and also take care of debris in the river from the factories,” Milner said.
The engineering work will use the strength of the river and the new features to create the volume needed for kayaking without having to adjust the flow level, she said.
The take-out area will remain in Trestle View Park, but there will be stadium seating for spectators, she said.
Franklin Savings Bank’s donation will support the construction of the whitewater park once the engineering is complete.
“This is an opportunity to change the tide in Franklin through outdoor recreation,” Parichand said. “We’ll reinvent ourselves.” He said the project presents a combined solution to Franklin’s problems. Interim Mayor Scott Clarenbach supported that notion in his comments during Monday’s ceremony. “Today’s gathering is all about Mill City Park at Franklin Falls, which is writing a new and exciting chapter by reutilizing the power of Franklin’s beautiful rivers for another prosperous period in our community’s long history,” he said.
Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, compared Franklin’s effort to the recent revitalization effort in Littleton, which used recreation as a way to redefine the community.
“It is part of what we need as a state to attract new residents at a time when there are more job openings than there are workers,” he said.
Parichand said of the project, “We have the opportunity to create a downtown tourist attraction and recreational amenity that will be equally appealing to users and spectators, and there is no competition in the region.”
The project, he said, “is consistent with our motto as being ‘The Three Rivers City’ — the rivers got us here with the factories and mill buildings, and now we turn to them once again for our rebirth.”