By Johanna Knapschaefer, Engineering News Record
January 26, 2023
Marty Parichand’s father took him at age 16 on his first whitewater adventure on the Penobscot River in Maine. It rained the entire drive from their home in Epsom, N.H. to Millinocket, Maine. “We weren’t in the raft 45 seconds before we had to swim across five rapids,” he says. After climbing to safety and helping rescue another rafter, he ran the rest of the eight-mile course watching kayakers doing tricks and knew he wanted to emulate that every day.
As founder and executive director of Mill City Park in Franklin, N.H., New England’s first whitewater park, the 40-year-old is not only living his dream, but also helping to revitalize the old mill town. Development of the nonprofit park’s $2.1-million phase one was completed in December, with fundraising now ongoing for the $2.4-million phase two that will require more complex construction to build a surfboarder wave upstream of the first-phase whitewater feature.
The park will eventually comprise 13 acres with three whitewater features, including a course for Olympic slalom training, with an additional 21 acres of conservation land that will be preserved nearby.
The second whitewater park of its kind built east of the Mississippi River is inspiring other New England mill towns to construct similar facilities in hopes of reviving economically depressed areas.
Parichand—an electrical and electronics engineer by training who also owns Outdoor New England, a shop that sells whitewater kayaking gear, and is a partner of real estate firm Buell Block Properties—first proposed the park in 2015. Modeling it after thriving Colorado whitewater parks, he says nobody took him seriously. While trying to launch the park, money was tight for the divorced father of two young children. It took a year to renovate the old mill building that houses his shop and required removal of 12,000 lb of demolition materials.
Four years later he considered quitting when he moved to Franklin with his children. “The boiler broke and it was 45° in February, our first night in the new house,” he recalls.
Putting all his time and money into the whitewater park project, it hurt when customers at his shop said he would never succeed, adding that “nothing good ever happens in Franklin.” In retrospect, he says he was “probably very naive about how quickly a project can shift direction.”
By late 2016, the city began to embrace the park idea as a driver of economic development and even created an economic development team. A feasibility study Parichand coauthored with the state of New Hampshire projected the park had the potential to attract more than 161,000 visitors annually. In six months, the city raised funds to buy two parcels of private land that it combined with unused city land to form the park, he says, also receiving a long-term lease to build the park.
Pete Walker, a Bedford, N.H.-based principal of engineering firm VHB, oversaw permitting for the park. He says Parichand is “the visionary and stubbornly persistent person who doesn’t take no for an answer; he is constantly looking to overcome any obstacles.”
Parichand’s leadership kept the project advancing “in good and difficult times and was instrumental to the success of the park today,” adds Judy Milner, Franklin’s city manager.
Since launching the park, 10 new businesses have opened downtown, Parichand says. “It’s amazing … we went from no breweries … to two breweries, a creperie and now we’re getting an Irish pub,” he says.