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  • Writer's pictureMarty

Plan to make Franklin area a regional draw expands

Concord Monitor | By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI | January 15, 2024

Friends Matt Thibault of Gorham, Maine (left) and David Plizga of Portland, Maine take a break in the pool area of the new Mill City Park at Franklin Falls in downtown Franklin on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. The pair drove the two hours to experience the new competition hole, a manmade structure that creates a wave with a deep pool on downward side where kayakers can practice their moves in safety and in low water situations.

Marty Parichand’s vision for a new whitewater park may sound repetitive.

For years, he has said that investing in recreation in Franklin will put the state’s smallest city on the map as a New England destination and spur economic growth.

It’s a message that he’s shared time and time again since the idea first came up for Mill City Park along the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin which he founded in 2017.

Now it’s one that’s intertwined with more voices. Parichand and other outdoor leaders in the area have founded the Foothills Foundation, a nonprofit that connects recreation organizations to share plans for recreational tourism that extends into Northfield, Tilton and other surrounding communities in Merrimack and Belknap counties.

Since 2022, the Foothills Foundation has developed a plan that focuses on building and maintaining new trails, coordinating efforts among organizations and promoting the area as a destination site.

Throughout Northfield, Tilton and Franklin the list of recreational sites continues to grow – Mill City Park, the Winnipesaukee River trails, Franklin Falls, Highland Mountain Bike Park, the Veterans Memorial ski area, Spaulding Youth Center trail system and more.

“Foothills is doing this because we see a huge potential in this area to make a significant difference,” said Mark Hayes, the owner of Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield. “This beautiful area has open spaces, natural resources, and our goal is to make it even better.”

At a Northfield select board meeting in December, Parichand joined other partner organizations involved with the Foothills Foundation to explain the larger vision of their work and share updates on various projects in the area.

Mill City Park made its splash in Franklin as the only whitewater park in the state. With a standing surf wave already in place and plans to develop a slalom course, Parichand hopes to capitalize on the river and attract kayakers, paddlers and surfers.

“Right now, we are using it as the focus of Franklin’s revitalization. A revitalization needs to have something that you have that no one else has if you want to progress quickly,” he said.

But what is lesser known about the development is the dozens of acres of conserved land and trails that surround the river. When the project is complete, the park will consist of 13 acres of land along the river bank and an additional 18 acres of conservation land.

“That takes us all the way to the border of Franklin in Northfield. So that’s pretty exciting,” he said.

The goal will be to connect the Mill City Park trails to a wider regional network, including the Winnipesaukee River Trail.

To do so, Parichand envisions refurbishing the bridges in the city, like the Trestle Bridge, which was just placed on the state’s Seven to Save list, to link trails on either side of the river.

“Some of these lists get you to be in the right room with the right people who can help make your projects a reality,” he said. “That’s certainly one them.”

Day to day in downtown Franklin, 18,000 to 22,000 people drive through Central Street, according to Parichand. If Mill City Park can attract visitors year-round, the area will be more successful if there is a link between other outdoor offerings.

“For us, that’s really dictated by more access points,” he said. “How do we as Mill City Park, basically the new kid on the block, connect to infrastructure points so that there’s more accessibility for everyone?”

When the whitewater portion of Mill City Park first opened in 2022, its use picked up in April, said Parichand. Over the last two years, he’s seen people move to Franklin as a result – similar to how Highland Mountain Bike Park sparked growth in Northfield.

“The millennial generation is an interesting one. They want to know they’re moving to a place where they can play, and they find the job after that,” he said.

The Foothills Foundation will help continue to convey these opportunities in a partnership with the UNH Cooperative Extension, a university system program that focuses on community solutions in the state.

With funding from UNH, the Foothills Foundation has organized discussions to assess the different forms of support that businesses in the area need and help think through ways to better collaborate, said Jada Lindbloom, a community and economic development field specialist at UNH.

That collaboration can come together with organizations applying for joint grants or developing a brand for the area that might entice other recreation groups to join.

“At our meetings, we’ve had mountain biking groups along with snowmobile clubs along with kayakers, hikers and bird watchers,” said Lindbloom. “I think that really speaks to the potential of building this out in our region.”

Engagement with the existing community is an equally important step. In Northfield, Highland Mountain Bike Park has been working with the school districts to offer after-school biking programs to students.

“We’re getting kids on bikes. Kids that don’t have the means, we’re getting them out on bikes,” said Hayes, the owner of the park.

This community focus will extend through the work of the Foothills Foundation.

“My day job is Highland, but I also work with these amazing people that spoke today to try to bring us all together to build something and continue to build something really special in this community,” Hayes said at the Northfield meeting. “And that’s linking these recreation assets.”

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