Concord Monitor | Julia Stinneford | May 8, 2021
Photos from 4/29/21 taken by Geoff Forester - Monitor Staff
When Marty Parichand was 16, his father took him white-water rafting on the Penobscot River in Maine.
“As we were carrying our boat to put in, I saw someone in a white-water kayak doing tricks in the water right in front of me,” Parichand said. “And immediately, I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
He and his father ended up flipping their boat a few times in the river that day, so Parichand’s father decided he was done with white-water sports, but Parichand was just getting started.
Now, his passion has brought him to be the executive director of a nonprofit dedicated to bringing a white-water park to the city of Franklin, known as the Three Rivers City.
Mill City Park at Franklin Falls, Parichand’s nonprofit, has spent years fashioning plans for the park, both for the land around the river and in the water itself. Parichand – a Franklin resident and owner of Outdoor New England kayak and gear shop in the city’s downtown – met with town officials in 2015 and presented the idea to them. Construction is now under way to make the park a reality.
The project is one of several signs of revitalization in the former mill town where the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers combine to form the Merrimack River.
Parichand said he was driven by the “need to see if the sport I love the most could transform a location to being a more dynamic and vibrant community.”
His vision was to fuse white-water sports and tourism, as the park will draw paddlers to the water, and spectators who want to watch the activities.
Parichand estimates that for every two people in the river using the white-water features, there will be about eight people on the shore watching, hiking and participating in the land-based activities.
Nick Mason, a secretary on the board of the Mill City Park nonprofit, said the project is intended to help boost Franklin’s economy and image, which have flagged for years.
“A big part of the reason for the park is to give Franklin something for a destination, a reason for destination tourism,” Mason said. “And it’ll start with the white-water paddlers.”
The park is currently under construction, which will include many phases. Mason anticipates the project won’t be fully completed for a few years.
While there are stages to the construction, some of it – like parking and trail work – will be completed this year.
“The goal is to have limited functionality this summer,” Mason said. “Instead of kicking it down the road another year, we wanted to get something out there and make it useful, so we can start attracting people.”
The park will consist of two main components in terms of construction – the land portion and the water portion. The land section is the part that will have some functionality by summer, Mason said, with biking and hiking trails and hopefully campgrounds.
As for the focal point of the park, the white-water features will take more time to create. The first one will undergo construction this summer, starting in July and ideally finishing in September.
These features, Mason explained, will not be fully man-made but will be an augmented section of the river, with standing waves to paddle into. White-water paddlers use these to train and improve their skills, Mason said.
Mason himself has been a white-water paddler for 26 years and has lived in New Hampshire for 14. Now living in Plymouth, he joined the board of the nonprofit two years ago and was a “cheerleader” of the project beforehand.
Parichand said that the idea of the white-water park was not received well at first, as people did not understand why this investment was more valuable than putting money into schools or roads.
“And the thing about it is, they’re wildly successful as community amenities,” Parichand said. About 300 of these parks exist in North America, including over 30 in Colorado alone, but none are in New England.
In those other areas, he said, they’re adjacent to baseball fields and basketball courts, but not directly connected to a downtown.
“That’s where you get a huge return on investment,” he said. “It’s in every store, it’s creating an identity for a location. And by doing that, by creating a brand, you’re giving the people, the residents and businesses, you’re giving them something others can latch onto.”
And Franklin, Parichand said, is the perfect place for this park to go.
“We have all the outdoor infrastructure any town could hope for,” he said. “We believe that the white-water park can be the anchor of the outdoor movement here in Franklin, but ultimately it can be part of what makes this city amazing.”
Their vision, Parichand said, “is really that residents and tourists who come to Franklin all make a memory together at the park.”
“The idea is that if we’ve done everything to a high enough quality, that every person who comes to Franklin, whether they live here or they’re traveling, makes a memory on the Winnipesaukee River, the same river that powered the town in the first place,” Parichand said. “That would be a success for the project.”