Franklin hosts first whitewater festival to highlight river's possibilities

Union Leader Correspondent
June 24. 2018 10:08PM
Kayakers Eugenia Vitkin, left, of Cumberland, R.I., and Michael Gaskin, of Berlin, Mass., negotiate a stretch of rapids during the premier whitewater festival held Friday through Sunday in Franklin. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

FRANKLIN — The state’s smallest city hosted its first ever whitewater festival this weekend and took another step toward its goal of reviving a river and restoring a community.

Plans call for the creation of a whitewater paddling park on the Winnipesaukee River, which is blessed with a steep gradient ideal for generating the rough water needed to produce adrenaline-inducing rides.

The park is the idea of Marty Parichard who runs Outdoor New England in Franklin, a shop that sells kayaking gear and teaches paddling. He founded Mill City Park, a nonprofit to advance the concept that the fast-flowing river is a paddler’s paradise, and if properly groomed could become an economic engine.

The festival which kicked off on Friday and ran through Sunday, Parichard said, gave many people their first chance to ride a whitewater raft and experience what the future holds for Franklin.

Paddling enthusiasts gathered in Trestle View Park to await a shuttle to take them and their craft upriver to put in for another run. Onlookers gathered at prime viewing spots along the Winnipesaukee River Trail to watch multi-colored kayaks, open canoes, and inflatable pontoon-style rafts among other craft make their way through the rapids.

Visitors to the park could sample beer from Kettlehead Brewing, eat tacos, browse craft and sporting vendors and watch paddlers float by and then haul out their boats.

In November, the project received a $180,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Franklin Savings Bank donated $250,000 that will pay for engineering and design work which may be completed as soon as this fall.

The project will involve the restoration and clean-up of a 1.25-mile-long section extending from Cross Mill Road in neighboring Tilton to Trestle View Park in Franklin. The safe removal of debris and remnants from the river bed will enable the waterway to flow at lower levels during the summer months for visitors to enjoy kayaking and rafting. The whitewater rafting park will be the first of its kind in New England.

“I’ve always wanted to do it since I was in the eighth grade,” said Michael Gaskin of Berlin, Mass., of how he got involved in whitewater paddling.

“I just needed to get all the gear, have people to go with and do it,” said Gaskin, who works for a software company.

This weekend marked the first time he has paddled the Winnipesaukee River and conceded it put his skills to the test.

“It was harder than other rapids I’ve run. It was nice not to get thrashed but the water is warm even if you end up out of your boat,” he continued.

The challenge he said was mastering the wild rapids. The reward — the soaking wet glory of accomplishment.

Eugenia Vitkin of Cumberland, R.I., who has been paddling for six years and is a veteran of the Winnipesaukee River, said she enjoys the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts and the thrill of conquering whitewater.

She is among the hardy souls who participate in the annual New Year’s Day paddle down a Class III section of the local river.

The economic impact that comes from introducing outdoor recreation as a sustainable means of local revenue, is not lost on city officials. Once completed the whitewater park has the potential to spur some $6.8 million in direct spending in the region.

The 10.5-mile-long river drains it namesake lake and flows southwest to join with the Pemigewasset River forming the headwaters of the Merrimack.

The river drops more than 7.7 feet over a 1.25-mile section, eclipsing prime whitewater rafting rivers in neighboring Maine.

Paddlers pass beneath the Sulphite Bridge, also called the Upside Down Covered Bridge, which once allowed trains to cross the river atop its structure instead of through its center. The last remaining bridge of its kind in the country, an arson fire burned its interior in 1980, and it was closed to traffic in 1973.

The centerpiece of Trestle View Park is a 15-foot-tall, black steel mill wheel that was the drivewheel that spun the leather belts that operated machinery in the Stevens woolen mill. The last of the city’s major mills it was shuttered in 1971.

EnvironmentTourismOn the WaterFranklin

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