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Franklin bets on revitalization with new park

Whitewater, City NewsMarty ParichandComment

Laconia Daily Sun | Tim Jones | April 21, 2018

  Courtesy of VHB Bedford.

Courtesy of VHB Bedford.

FRANKLIN — Can people playing in a river help revitalize a struggling city? Can the recreational opportunities in and along a river actually improve the quality of life in and the public image of a city that’s lost its luster? Can it bring people back to the city center where they will recreate and relax, listen to music, dine, shop and, maybe, eventually, choose to settle and build a life there?

The city of Franklin is betting on exactly that with a proposed 11-acre Mill City Park at Franklin Falls (millcitypark.com) to be built on the open land on the north bank of the river upstream of the old trestle bridge visible from Route 3 in downtown Franklin. As planned, the park will open direct access and recreation opportunities on the Winnipesaukee River and will complement the Winnipesaukee River Trail which has already been developed along the south bank of the river. The centerpiece of the new park will be a “Whitewater Play Park” which planners are hoping will draw the interest of kayakers, canoeists, paddleboarders, tubers, and surfers from around New England. As people come to play in the flowing water, others will come to watch the action, and good things will result.

The same concept has worked for other cities, like Salida, Colorado, (a dying railroad town) and Dayton, Ohio, (in the heart of the Rustbelt) and many other river communities across the country, where river play parks have become proven economic drivers for downtown revitalization. And, the same thing can happen in Franklin, according to Marty Parichand, the owner of Outdoor New England (outdoornewengland.com), who runs a kayak shop in a refurbished mill building in downtown Franklin and who is spearheading the Mill City Park project. “There’s nothing else like it in New England,” says Parichand. “A whitewater play park can be a reason for people to come to Franklin and see the city in a new way.”

What is a whitewater play park?

To understand what’s going on here, you have to understand a little about recreating on rivers here in the Lakes Region. Begin with the notion that flowing water means fun in the same way that a snow-covered slope means fun.

You may not know it, but hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, already come to the Lakes Region each spring and summer specifically to enjoy our rivers, especially the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee. Some are just relaxing while swimming and sunning, or floating in an inner tube, but at the core are the whitewater paddlers who take small boats into flowing water seeking the same challenge and adrenaline rush that skiers and snowboarders find on the slopes.

Just as some skiers and snowboarders start at the top of a mountain and follow a trail to the base, there are paddlers who “run the river,” starting upstream and paddling down. Some river paddlers choose “quick water,” which is flowing water without any significant obstacles, the equivalent of a beginner trail at a ski area. Other paddlers s seek expert terrain, dodging rocks and using the waves and eddies formed by the flowing water the same way that expert skiers and riders might seek out steeps, bumps or powder snow in the spaces between trees. At this time of year when water flows are high, you can visit Trestle View Park in Franklin and likely see kayakers and canoeists running the toughest whitewater on the Winnipesaukee.

But a number of skiers and snowboarders today gravitate to terrain parks, where they can practice doing jumps, grinds, spins and flips on special features that have been crafted for exactly that purpose. There’s a subset of whitewater paddlers who use tiny play boats to do tricks on whitewater features in a river. These play boaters will “park and play” for long periods a flowing wave that allows them to practice tricks exactly as skiers and snowboarders do in a terrain park. You can see an example of park and play on Coolidge Woods Road near downtown Bristol where the Pemi Playhole attracts boaters who practice their tricks and will happily put on a show for an appreciative audience.

A whitewater play park is a partnership between man and the river, in which man engineers specific features on the river to attract people seeking fun. According to Mike Harvey from the Colorado-based company Recreation Engineering and Planning, which is designing the play park, the current thinking calls for three main features within about 1,200 feet of flowing river. One of the goals will be to engineer the features so they can survive over time without requiring any regular maintenance. They will not only have to withstand periodic floods but will also have to be structured so that the fun factor stays high even when water levels in the river vary.

Just as ski areas need snow and often make snow to supplement what Mother Nature delivers, whitewater play parks need water. Natural cycles would create constantly varying flows, but water resources on the Winnipesaukee are controlled to a large extent by the three major dams upstream, at the outlets of Winnipesaukee, Opeechee Bay and Winnisquam. The eventual hope is to stabilize water levels in the river so that it flows at acceptable recreation levels as much as possible though spring, summer and fall.

Cleaning up the past and permitting the future

The Winnipesaukee River was the power source that drove the city’s original development. Dams along the river provided power to mills, mills created jobs and brought people. Franklin prospered. Then the world changed, the jobs moved away never to return, the mills crumbled and the river was essentially abandoned.

As with many other rivers in the state, time and concerted effort have cleaned up much of the pollution from this once-fetid river. The water now runs clean but the impacts of the industrial past still remain in the form of breached and broken-down dams and mill foundations. Part of the goal of this new project is to honor the industrial history even as they work to remove or mitigate some of the more dangerous remnants of that past, such as pieces of log cribbing and broken concrete with rebar which lurk deep beneath the surface of the river like punji sticks on a jungle trail waiting to impale the unsuspecting.

Restoring the river bed while honoring the historic significance is going to be a challenge, as is making changes to the river without significant environmental impact. The permitting process with the state’s Department of Environmental Services is already underway and, as yet, has encountered no major road blocks, though many questions will need to be answered in detail before the project will be allowed to begin actual construction. The organizers of the Mill City Park have hired VHB, a consulting firm with offices in Bedford to help shepherd the project through the permitting process.

The Mill City Park organizers have just received a $5,000 Community Grant from the state Capital Region Development Council which will help them create a formal Master Plan for the park, a process that’s expected to take about three months. In addition to the whitewater park at the center of the plan, the long range goals will include a community garden, event space, picnic area, historic mill run trail, interconnection to the Winnipesaukee River Trail, a mountain bike pump track system and an “eco-village area.”

Construction of the first whitewater feature will start in 2019 if all goes according to plan – even sooner if the stars align correctly.

Enjoying the river right now

If you want to sample what river recreation is all about before the play park even gets started, you have plenty of immediate opportunities. To keep it simple, just head to Franklin and take a walk on the Winnipesaukee River Trail. Before the leaves come out, you’ll have a good view of the Class III river run which attracts so many paddlers from around New England.

From Friday, June 22, to Sunday, June 24, the organizers of Mill City Park are hosting the Winni River Days at Trestle View Park. This fundraising event will include free live music, a duck race, vendors, food, and (oh yeah!) a chance to watch whitewater paddlers at play in a couple of races to be held on the river. You can get more details at http://millcitypark.com/events/2018winniriverdays.

If you want to get on the river yourself, Outdoor New England is offering whitewater rafting trips there this spring. You can safely get a taste of the adrenaline-rush of whitewater without the long learning curve of learning to paddle it on your own.

But if you really want to experience the true excitement of the river, take an introduction to whitewater kayaking class from Outdoor New England and get on the water with your own boat. You’ll start your paddling career upstream in Tilton, where the rapids are much smaller and easier to negotiate, but if you keep practicing, you’ll be ready to enjoy the lower Winni with its newly engineered playspots as they come on line.


White-water race to commemorate anniversary of river preservation

Whitewater, City NewsMarty ParichandComment

Concord Monitor | Lucas Masin-Moyer | June 21, 2017

  Race directors Sonny and Amy Hunt take part in a previous year’s slalom race on the Winnipesaukee River.   Concord Monitor Article Picture.

Race directors Sonny and Amy Hunt take part in a previous year’s slalom race on the Winnipesaukee River. Concord Monitor Article Picture.

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.


Where To Hike, Bike & Raft In A Day In New Hampshire

Company News, City News, WhitewaterJason BogaczComment

If you drive 90 minutes north of Boston, you’ll reach an area that includes three traditional New England towns – Andover, Franklin and Northfield. In one day in this small area it’s easy to hike, mountain bike and raft – and then finish the day with a good meal.

The Northern Rail Trail

Between the towns of Boscawen and Lebanon on the railbed used by the Northern Railroad for over 100 years is 58 miles of multi-use trail that’s been in place since the rail line was abandoned in the 1990’s. Today it’s called the Northern Rail Trail and is used year-round by hikers, cyclists, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

I got a taste of the trail beginning in the cute, historic village of Potter Place near Andover. It’s the site of the information kiosk and the main trailhead for Friends of the Northern Rail Trail. Right off the bat I was led by my host, Lindy Heim to the Secret Garden. Built with love and free labour all because of the vision of one man – Ken Reid, the garden sits in the cellar hole of a former farmhouse owned by Richard and Sally Potter. Back in the early 1800’s Richard was a ventriloquist and magician of some note. Their graves can be seen across from the train depot.

From the Secret Garden we wandered down the trail enjoying gorgeous stands of hardwood forest – with the occasional black fly to annoy us as the temperature climbed. Lindy pointed out a couple of things along the trail I would have seen but not understood their value.

 The Secret Garden in Potter Place

The Secret Garden in Potter Place

 Starting the hike at Potter Place – a really pretty historic village

Starting the hike at Potter Place – a really pretty historic village

 Delightful, easy hiking on the Northern Rail Trail in New Hampshire

Delightful, easy hiking on the Northern Rail Trail in New Hampshire

 Telltales – structures with wires hanging down

Telltales – structures with wires hanging down

 Look for historic mileposts – this one showing that it’s 38 miles to White River Junction; the backside would show the distance to Boston

Look for historic mileposts – this one showing that it’s 38 miles to White River Junction; the backside would show the distance to Boston

Mountain Biking at Highland Mountain Bike Park

I’ve logged a lot of miles on a mountain bike BUT never a single mile on the type of mountain bike pictured below which are made for mountain bike parks. But I’m game for most everything and was happy to don a full helmet and knee pads to see what I could do.

First I had a chat with the founder of Highland Mountain Bike Park, Mark Hayes. After selling a high tech company before the stock meltdown, he had a vision to create the world’s only lift accessed mountain completely dedicated to mountain biking. Today the word is out and the park is a mecca for mountain bikers who come from all over New England and even further afield. Apart from an extensive trail network, the park boasts an indoor training facility and skill building areas. In summer Mark has expanded to include kid’s camps which he says “Have Become Very Popular.” His goal is to appeal to every type of mountain biker from newbie to elite. With the opportunity to take lessons and practice in a friendly environment, he has made the sport very approachable for all ages.

I started my adventure with a mountain biking lesson. On these bikes you rarely sit down – and it’s so hard to peddle in the sitting position you won’t want to, except when your legs are screaming at you. I had to practice keeping one finger over each brake all the time; and I was supposed to stay loose in the neutral position and keep my eyes focused ahead.

After it was decided that I wouldn’t be a liability to myself, we headed for the chairlifts. The views are fantastic especially as you climb about 700 vertical feet. At the top, large maps show all the trails ranging from beginner to double black. Needless to say I was on a beginner trail – the easiest one called Freedom Trail.

And guess what? Me – a middle-aged woman had a blast! I followed my guide down – and kept my eyes focused ahead which made a huge difference. It was about 3.5 miles long and by the end – actually well before the end, my legs were begging to have a break from their “neutral” position. But I did it and if I didn’t have to run off and raft I would have done another run or two.

The facility is truly fantastic. After biking you can sit back, take in the view of fellow bikers and enjoy beers, drinks and a meal. It’s a sweet place to visit.

 I’m all outfitted and ready to go mountain biking at the Highland Mountain Bike Park

I’m all outfitted and ready to go mountain biking at the Highland Mountain Bike Park

 There’s a great selection of bikes for all sizes at Highland Mountain Bike Park

There’s a great selection of bikes for all sizes at Highland Mountain Bike Park

 Take the chairlift up so you can access a maze of trails to suit all level of mountain biker

Take the chairlift up so you can access a maze of trails to suit all level of mountain biker

 Look for the detailed map at the top of the chairlift so you don’t end up on one that doesn’t match your skill set

Look for the detailed map at the top of the chairlift so you don’t end up on one that doesn’t match your skill set

 Practice riding banked curves on the Highland Mountain bike trails

Practice riding banked curves on the Highland Mountain bike trails

Rafting the Winnipeasaukee River

If you’re looking for a supremely fun and thrilling rafting experience you can do in just 90 minutes, basically over a long lunch hour, the Winnipeausaukee River is it. I had the pleasure of rafting the river twice one afternoon with Outdoor New England.

After donning wetsuits in their store on the main street of Franklin, we had a five minute car ride to the launch site – the shortest ride ever to a put-in. Of course we were given the full safety spiel before getting into the raft and once in our guide made sure we understood his commands before heading out. Though this is the only urban rafting experience in all of New England it’s one that keeps you on your toes and delivers more thrills per mile than most.

The rafting starts off quietly enough with a few ripples but in short order our adrenaline surged as we hit Class II, III and IV rapids in quick succession. In fact over the approximate 1.5 miles we raft, there was hardly a moment of calm. We barely have time to notice the remains of mills and dams along the edge of the river before we’re commanded to paddle hard right or left or to back paddle NOW.

The last major rapid – Trestle Bridge (pictured below) is a tricky one because if you get knocked out of the raft – you need to get to shore quickly as the next obstacle downstream is a dam. Trust me that gets your attention.

One of the fellows in our boat was new to rafting and he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. The same goes for me. I felt exhilarated and very much alive after both runs down the river. After the first run, when I emerged from the raft looking like a drowned rat, I had the pleasure of meeting Senator Jeanne Shaheen (previously Governor of New Hampshire). She was there along with Marty Parichand, the Founder of Outdoor New England to hear about a project “To Create A Sustainable Whitewater Park For Year Round Use On The River With The Goal Of Turning The Downtown Into A Vibrant Micro-Urban Centerpiece.” I wish Marty and the community lots of luck. Certainly my urban rafting experience – a first – was memorable.

 Great fun rafting the rafting the Winnipeasaukee River with Outdoor New England (Photo credit: Outdoor New England)

Great fun rafting the rafting the Winnipeasaukee River with Outdoor New England (Photo credit: Outdoor New England)

 This is the last set of rapids you have to negotiate

This is the last set of rapids you have to negotiate

 If you dump in the last rapid you have to get to the side quickly so you don’t reach the dam.

If you dump in the last rapid you have to get to the side quickly so you don’t reach the dam.

Thank you to Visit New Hampshire for hosting my stay and to Lindy, Mark and Marty to taking the time to speak with me.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Follow me on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest

Telltales are structures with wires or rope hanging down (fourth photo down). Ed Hillier notes that “They Were Placed Some 100 Feet On Either Side Of An Overhead Bridge Or Other Low-Clearance Obstacle. They Warned Any Railroad Worker Who Was Standing On Top Of A Railroad Car That He Had Only A Few Seconds To Drop Down Or Be Swept Off The Car.”

The other interesting feature along this trail are the historic mileposts. Each of these granite posts are 8.5 feet long and weigh 1,400 pounds. Not only can you see the distance to Boston or White River Junction on each marker, but back in the day engineers could judge their train speed by the time it took to travel between mile markers. Today they serve as reference points just as they did when the railroad owned it and kept track of railroad properties like bridges, culverts and train stations.


U.S. Sen. Shaheen visits Franklin with an eye on economic development

Whitewater, Company News, City NewsMarty ParichandComment

Concord Monitor | Lucas Masin-Moyer | June 01, 2017

Rushing, choppy waters.

That was the backdrop for a portion of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s visit to Franklin on Thursday, when she toured local storefronts, learned about the city’s renewed focus on its rivers, and attempted to calm business leaders in a community facing the turmoil of steep funding cuts in the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

Shaheen stopped in at businesses set up with the help of Todd Workman and his group PermaCityLife, a nonprofit geared toward revitalizing the Franklin.

Workman has been driving to bring new businesses and younger demographics to the city of 8,500, and he said a core part of his group’s work has hinged on federal community development programs set to be slashed in the Trump budget plan.

“What we really rely on is the economic development toolbox that’s in place right now,” he told Shaheen. “There are very specific target programs that work, and they generate more money than they cost the federal government.” 

Workman said PermaCityLife’s efforts have been aided by federal money from Community Development Block Grants, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development and the Economic Development Administration.

These programs all face cuts with the new Trump administration budget, according to Workman. 

“This city is on the rise,” he said. “We have the tools we need to do it, but some of those tools are in jeopardy.” 

Shaheen applauded PermaCityLife’s efforts and stressed her commitment to maintaining funding for federal programs facing cuts.

“I’m here to say we can’t let these efforts go away; they’re really important not just to Franklin or New Hampshire, but communities across this country,” she said. “I’ve had a chance to see these programs – as both governor and senator – and I know what kind of difference they make, and I’m going to do everything I can so we don’t see the cuts that are coming out of the Trump budget.” 

Workman stressed the importance of federal funding to continue the growth in Franklin, which has seen 16 new businesses spring up in the last year and a half, he said.

Key to Franklin’s revitalization efforts is not just driving new enterprise, but drawing a more business-friendly demographic to the city. Marty Parichand, the owner of Outdoor New England and the architect of a plan for a new white-water park, said he’s trying to do his part.

Parichand said his white-water park would help infuse the city with life and a younger population.

“The demographic is perfect for a city that struggles with millennials,” he said. “The core group of white-water kayakers – 60-70 percent – are less than 30 years of age. These boats are not cheap, and they have disposable income.”

The push for changing demographics in Franklin is real. Twenty-four percent of its residents live in poverty and 60 percent of public school students received free or reduced-price lunch, according to City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.

On top of that, the cuts in federal funding will hinder continued development, Dragon said, a bitter truth in city that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 15 percent margin in the 2016 election.

Shaheen’s tour made stops at Colby-Sawyer College’s Sustainable Learning Initiative building, Franklin Clothing Company, coffee shop and restaurant The Franklin Studio, Toad Hall Art Bazaar, and Outdoor New England, all which said they started business in Franklin due to Perma City Life’s efforts.

Acadia LeBlanc, a rising junior at Colby-Sawyer, talked about studied sustainability initiatives in the community while helping to teach water conservation at Franklin High School.

“It’s so cool that we have our own space here, we were transporting all our stuff from New London, which is 30 minutes away,” she said. “It’s awesome because we get to build this relationship with Franklin.” 

With white-water rafters traveling down the Winnipesaukee River behind him, Parichand said the ability to fuse his passion with revitalization efforts for the city was a great privilege.

“My passion is to influence a community on the things I hold dear, which is white-water kayaking,” he said. “Revitalizing a town, or helping to revitalize a town, through a sport I’m passionate about is the best case for me.”


Moving forward in Franklin

Company News, City NewsMarty ParichandComment

Redevelopment effort breathes new life into the city

New Hampshire Business Review | Article by Liisa Rajala | Photos by Allegra Boverman

Slowly but surely, the city of Franklin is undergoing a transformation. The goal: to become a tourist destination for outdoor enthusiasts and a home to millennials looking to make an impact on their community.

Renovations are in the works to turn the former art gallery Toad Hall into a restaurant by this summer. Just last fall, a team of engineers inspected the future site of a whitewater park. CATCH Neighborhood Housing is in the midst of renovating a foreclosed mill building into 45 affordable apartment units. And that’s just naming a few of the happenings occurring in the city of approximately 8,400.

For decades, Franklin has made efforts to rewrite its history as a failing mill town, but this movement is even more crucial. With significant revenue shortfalls in recent years, the city must draw in new income or else face an even more dire future.

“We can’t tax our way out of our problems,” says City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, who has to find out-of-the-box solutions to balance the budget. “We need to find a way to generate new revenue, and we need to focus on economic development and tourism, attracting those new net dollars.”

It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, with regular biweekly stakeholder meetings, a team of students from Colby-Sawyer College in New London and a number of active residents stepping in to volunteer their time and energy.


Integral to the effort are seven properties owned by PermaCityLife, a nonprofit founded by Todd Workman. Raised in Gilford and having worked in the financial services industry in New York and across New England, Workman initially returned to the area to tend to his grandparents. He was browsing real estate properties in New Hampshire when he came across Franklin and started purchasing buildings along Central Street in 2014.

Workman envisions Franklin as a sustainable community – protecting drinking water, creating renewable energy, ensuring local food supplies and implementing zero-waste measures – with a vibrant micro-urban centerpiece.

During the summer of 2015, Workman met Marty Parichand, a whitewater rafting guide and former avionic systems programming specialist who envisioned opening the first whitewater park in New England.

Parichand envisions a walkway along the river that will lead passerbys underneath the bridge from Trestle View Park to Mill City Park and a pathway of trails.
Parichand, who is from Epsom, had been setting his sights on Concord, but immediately saw potential in Franklin.

“The concept is new for New England, but there are 30 of them in Colorado, 280 across the country,” says Parichand. He was surprised at how knowledgeable Workman was about the whitewater paddling industry.

“This is all stuff I’ve been passionate about and I’ve been a paddler for a long time. I don’t often meet a paddler who knows these things,” says Parichand. “He already believed in it wholeheartedly. We began to bond around that idea.”

Parichand then started his nonprofit, Mill City Park. He wants to use a tract of city-owned land along the Winnipesaukee River for a launching spot as well as create a mountain bike pump track, a community garden and an eco-village-style campsite.

In 2015, Parichand worked with the state Department of Resources and Economic Development on a report that found Mill City Park would bring in $6.8 million of direct spending in the region.

“We have many challenges here in Franklin, and we believe this whitewater park is our second identity,” he says.

In one of PermaCityLife’s buildings, Parichand opened up an outdoor recreation shop, called Outdoor New England. Like many of the buildings, it had been condemned. Parichand says he removed 12,000 pounds of trash and demolition debris, and paid out of pocket for the mechanical and electrical systems.

Today, you wouldn’t know of the building’s grim past. The shop has a charming look from the reclaimed wood and old cabinetry.

Next door is a volunteer-run coffee shop, led by Jo Brown. Brown approached Workman with the idea. She brought in family and friends to clear out the space – a labor of love. The quaint shop is run mainly by retirees who are happy to take on a four-hour shift. Its success led to a wall being knocked out to allow for a gift shop all of whose offerings are products made in New Hampshire, a majority of which are created by local artisans.

Community-based sustainability

Jo Brown and her sister, Carol Protzman, at The Franklin Studio, a volunteer-run coffee shop on Central Street that also has a gift shop with local-made products.
On one Saturday, the shop has a healthy bustling of customers. Sitting in his usual spot is Mike Mullavey, the treasurer of PermaCityLife. “You wouldn’t believe the skepticism in the beginning, but they’ve really come around,” he says about other community members. “You can get that feeling back, that people want to be in town and a part of the town.”

Across the street is Toad Hall, Take Root Coworking – a shared coworking space with a fiber connection providing faster Internet than Franklin Savings Bank, it proudly proclaims – Franklin Clothing Company and Colby-Sawyer’s satellite campus, where Workman will also operate PermaCityLife from.

Last fall, Colby-Sawyer launched a three-year degree in community-based sustainability with a focus on gaining real-world experience through working with PermaCityLife, Mill City Park and the city of Franklin.

“Students learn about sustainability, and not just how that applies to communities, but also to organizations and nonprofits,” says Jennifer White, sustainability coordinator for the college and assistant professor in the environmental services department.

It’s not just students in the degree program who have the opportunity to work with Franklin. In 2015, Colby-Sawyer launched a Sustainable Learning Initiative, giving all of its students the opportunity to pair with individuals in Franklin to complete a to-do list of sustainable revitalization efforts.

“We’re really interested in walking alongside the residents of Franklin to help them achieve their goals,” says White. “We get to see progress in the downtown area as some of these projects come into fruition and the students get to see their benefits to the community members.”

One graphic design student created the logo for Mill City Park. He’s now working as an apprentice with CATCH to develop an identity for the future apartment complex.

When asked whether student involvement could make students interested in staying in the community, White thought it was a possibility. While on winter break, a group of students in the degree program attended a city council meeting of their own accord.

“A lot of the pieces we do are progressive ideas or outdoor recreation initiatives that resonate with young people, with millennials,” says Parichand. “We’re always able to ask students questions about what kind of community they want to live in.”

“It’s a great example of a local community taking it upon themselves to do something different and stick with it,” says Michael Bergeron, business development manager for DRED. The agency has helped organize various state players, including connecting Parichand with the state Department of Environmental Services to discuss dam releases that affect the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin.

“By attracting a young demographic who want to whitewater raft and do mountain biking, they will change the character of that community and make a difference long term,” says Bergeron.

Funding sources

Vital to Franklin’s revitalization are the variety of financing options.

In 2015, the city was awarded a grant from UNH Cooperative Extension that created a steering committee to bring in several speakers to the city to talk about revitalization efforts and form a realistic to-do list in a series called “Franklin for a Lifetime.”

“I think after that point, we had a better understanding of each other in terms of what the city can and cannot do legally – the are constraints on the city – and what PermaCityLife could do and was able to do in terms of economic development,” says Dragon. “Once everyone understood their roles we found creative ways to work together and momentum started to build.”

Through the “Franklin for a Lifetime” series, the city learned about USDA Rural Development grants. It received a $50,000 Rural Business Enterprise grant the city used to hire downtown coordinator Niel Cannon to work with the steering committee to find and carry out projects that help low and moderate income families.

CATCH Neighborhood Housing is renovating the former Franklin Light and Power Mill to provide 45 affordable apartment units. The mill was erected in 1895, the same year Franklin was incorporated.

The city also received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for CATCH Neighborhood Housing’s mill renovations – a small piece of the $12 million project – and $400,000 in Community Development Finance Authority tax credits, a quarter of which Franklin Savings Bank purchased, which will be used to make façade improvements on PermaCityLife-owned buildings.

Franklin recently incorporated the land intended for Mill City Park as part of its TIF (tax investment financing) district. The city created the district – which comprises much of downtown – in 2008. If a building within the district is renovated and taxes increase, a portion of the increase is reinvested to projects in the same district.

“It’s very unique. Every community with TIF districts has to say what the projects are, how much of the new incremental value will be reinvested in that area of the community, and they have an advisory board to oversee and goes back to the city council for approval,” says Dragon.

Meanwhile, the city has seen significant changes with the opening of eight new businesses in downtown Franklin over the past year.

“Certainly, things are the most favorable they’ve ever been now as opposed to two years ago,” says Parichand. “There obviously was kind of a rocky start in the beginning, but, to put it in perspective, the first day I started renovating Outdoor New England, I had four to five people from Franklin that I had never met offer to help. Through that process I’ve made great friends. So I think, there’s some people who don’t think it will happen certainly, but I think that group becomes smaller and smaller every day. We’re still here doing what we’re doing and continuing to move forward.”