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Plans for proposed Franklin water park include walking trails, camping site

Concord Monitor | December 3, 2018 | L. Willingham

When most people hear about the nonprofit Mill City Park, an organization working to bring a whitewater park to Franklin, they think about paddlers on the Winnipesaukee River. And the river, which city officials hope will draw whitewater enthusiasts from across New England, is an important part of the project, says Marty Parichand, executive director of Mill City Park.

But another key element of the project is the Mill City Park itself, an 11-acre space located south of the railroad that used to run through Franklin’s Trestle Bridge and Sulphite Bridge, or the “upside down covered bridge.”

Mill City Park will house a community garden, pavilion, two public bathrooms, picnic areas, educational areas, hiking trails, a parking area, a climbing wall and a mountain bike pump track system, Parichand said.

He envisions a tent-camping area, and a path that connects the existing Winnipesaukee River Trail on the other side of the river using the historic bridges, which are now unsafe to walk on. It will be the thread that ties the whole project together, Parichand said.

“The river is at the center of it all, but at the end of the day, we’re not renaming the river,” he said. “We’re opening a community park and a hub that it will be known for, where people can appreciate the history of the city.”

The organization has been working on a master plan for the park and the river for six months, funded in part by a $5,000 grant from the Capital Regional Development Council and put together by Resilience Planning & Design in Plymouth. He said that report could be finalized by mid-December.

“The master planning effort is all encompassing – it’s looking at the land aspect, and the water aspect, and how the two will interact,” he said.

The master plan will help lay out how pieces like the sites of the old mills will be worked into the park.

In a former life, Franklin was a bustling mill city. There are the sites of three former mills on the proposed park property that Parichand wants to incorporate into the park in an educational way that will allow people to see, touch and interact with the history safely, while also preserving it.

“One of them had a smokestack that you would be able to see from any spot in Franklin and now only the foundations exist,” Parichand said of the mill’s remains. “It’s a pretty exciting opportunity to see the decline of an area and how nature is taking the land back.”

One way to do that is through a proposed climbing wall on some of the old ruins on the southeastern end of the park.

Parichand said the organization is also working to be as environmentally conscious as possible. All structures on site will utilize solar electric or other renewable energy power sources, he said.

In 2019, Mill City Park will start clearing for the access road, which will begin off of Willow Street, and installing electrical and plumbing that will be necessary for the bathhouses. That work will be funded by a $200,000 grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and $200,000 in donations, which was approved in October. In the summer of 2020, work will begin on the park’s timber-frame pavilion.

Once completed, Mill City Park will be the first whitewater park and outdoor recreation area in all of the Northeast. It will continue to work as a nonprofit and will be open to the public, Parichand  said.

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