• Marty

Return to the River Part 3: Recreation – and rebirth?


On a given day, drivers passing Sanel Auto Parts and crossing over the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin may notice some brightly clad paddlers crashing through the current, mouths opened wide as cold water hits their faces.

Floating past old mill ruins, beneath splintered trestle bridges and between overgrown sections of riverbank, Mill City Park Director Marty Parichand and others are generating momentum for a new reputation in the “Three Rivers City” – it’s the place to go for recreation.

This is a rather evolved image for a former industrial city that once stunk to high heaven.

Prior to the 1970s, raw sewage was dumped into the Winnipesaukee River by Tilton, Northfield and Franklin. More discharges flowed from failing septic systems throughout the watershed.

Former Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Thomas Burack wrote in a report that in summertime, water consistency was described as “pea soup.” Fish kills, algal blooms and strong odors were common.

The year after Stevens Company Mill closed, New Hampshire’s legislature voted to address the problem. They established the Winnipesaukee River Basin program in 1972.

For two decades, the program worked with local communities to construct the Franklin wastewater treatment plant, 14 wastewater pumping stations and more than 60 miles of sewer lines.

As effluent was gradually removed from the Winnipesaukee River, people began to appear, riding down the rapids.

Paddler paradise

National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire Executive Director Ken Norton – an avid paddler – said the annual “First Day” whitewater event in Franklin dates back to the 1980s.

In the very beginning, it started with people floating down the Winnipesaukee River in tubes. To arm themselves for the chilly January air and freezing-cold water (and the general stupidity of what they were doing), Norton said alcohol, and not lifejackets, was the protective gear of choice. 

“Not exactly a safe scene,” he said. “If you had a wetsuit, you were lucky – there weren’t drysuits. There wasn’t the gear that exists now that ma