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‘Standing wave’ takes shape at Franklin’s whitewater park

Union Leader | John Koziol | Oct. 5, 2021

City Manager Judie Milner and Mill City Park project engineer Mike Harvey stand on Franklin’s Central Street Bridge, overlooking the cofferdam created to build a “standing wave” in the Winnipesaukee River, part of phase one of Mill City Park at Franklin Falls. - John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent

The first whitewater park in New England is quickly taking shape in downtown Franklin, with Phase I — which includes a “standing wave” for kayakers and surfers — slated to open in late November.

The park is a public/private partnership between the city of Franklin and the nonprofit Mill City Park at Franklin Falls, whose mission, the group states on its website, is to “Let the Winnipesaukee River repower our community.”

Mike Harvey, project manager and designer of the park, said Tuesday that when the $1.3 million first phase is complete, there’ll be many places to watch kayakers and surfers, or drop a fishing line into the river.

Later there will be a pavilion, bike track, walking trails, tent sites, rental cabins, a climbing wall and a play area.

Originating at the southern end of Paugus Bay in Laconia, the Winnipesaukee carries water from Lake Winnipesaukee westward through Belmont, Tilton and Northfield before arriving in Franklin. About a mile downstream from where the standing wave is being built, the Winnipesaukee joins the Pemigewasset River to form the Merrimack.

Employees of the Alvin J. Coleman & Son company work in and around a cofferdam in the Winnipesaukee River Tuesday during the construction of Mill City Park at Franklin Falls. - John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent

Harvey said the Winnipesaukee River has “a lot of drop energy” coming into Franklin — about 75 feet per mile, which he described as “quite steep.”

For the past 21 years, Harvey has worked for Recreation Engineering and Planning of Colorado, which has built dozens of whitewater parks. It is tops in its field, City Manager Judie Milner said Tuesday.

“We were smart enough to hire Mike” in 2018, Milner said as she stood with Harvey on the Central Street Bridge watching Alvin J. Coleman & Son employees at work.

The Conway company has built a cofferdam, which Harvey said allows workers to excavate into the riverbed and build the standing wave, which is technically known as a “hydraulic jump.”

Concrete blocks “that fit together like LEGOs,” will form the base of the jump, he said. The water slides over the angled top of the huge concrete box and recoils on itself, creating a wave. That structure will be topped with natural boulders, the only part of the jump that will be visible.

To be successful, whitewater parks must “increase public access to rivers” and be located in a community that offers activities for non-park users, Harvey said.

“This (Mill City Park) is in the city,” he said. “It’s set up beautifully to succeed.”

Milner pointed out that Mill City Park is both free and open year-round.

Milner and Harvey thanked Peter Walker of Bedford’s Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., for being the point person working with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“Building a whitewater park is 80% permitting,” said Harvey.

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