Concord Monitor | Lucas Masin-Moyer | June 21, 2017
Thirty years ago, residents of Tilton, Northfield and Franklin almost lost all access to white water on the Winnipesaukee River when a proposed a dam threatened to divert the flow of the river into a pipe to generate power.
Not wanting to lose access to the river that flowed through all three communities, activists formed the Friends of the Winnipesaukee River, which spent years advocating against construction until the dam permits for lapsed and the white-water portions of the river were preserved.
To celebrate the anniversary of preservation efforts, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the towns and conservation commissions of Northfield and Tilton, and Friends of the Winnipesaukee River created a white-water slalom race in the part of the river where the dams were supposed to be built, and it’s returning this Saturday and Sunday.
Ken Norton, who helped organize the event, said the race came together to showcase the possibility of these preserved white-water areas as hot spots for recreation.
The efforts to make the river more accessible, Norton said in a statement, had been going on long before the proposed dam construction and continue today.
“It was (about) increasing awareness events about recreational possibilities in the river,” he said.
The clean-up efforts involved “removal of rebar and dam debris from the river to make it safe for paddling and a lot of work with the communities to recognize the value of recreation and that pushed the state to agree to have some white water loops,” Norton said.
According to Norton, close to 75 racers will take advantage of the river, now in top shape for white-water recreation – an activity that has spread beyond the most avid of racers.
“People come and go and they paddle ... some people come and play on Saturdays and don’t race,” Norton said.
In order to help organize and run the race, the organizations enlisted the help of father-daughter team Sonny and Amy Hunt, who had previous experience running slalom races in Webster.
Sonny Hunt said he believes the race will attract paddlers from all over the area.
“Racers are looking forward to this event as part of the New England White Water Slalom series and as preparation for the White Water Slalom Nationals to be held in early July,” he said in a press release.
The race will travel along the upper portion of the river through Tilton, Northfield and Franklin.
The efforts to make the river more accessible have coincided with efforts to revitalize the city of Franklin.
Norton said the efforts to blend these efforts has been led by Marty Parichand, the owner of Outdoor New England, who is working in conjunction with PermaCityLife to revitalize the Franklin downtown.
These efforts, Norton said, will make the area a go-to for prospective paddlers and white-water enthusiasts.
“They are looking at developing a white-water park in Franklin, in the lower section and that would have a variety of attractions – a mountain bike track with it – lots of stuff going on,” he said.