First Day whitewater rapids tradition a ‘flow moment’ for Franklin
Elodie Reed | Concord Monitor
Splashing in icy river water on a chilly winter day isn’t necessarily a popular way to attract people to a place. But in Franklin, it works.
It’s done the trick for the last 35 New Year’s Days, when kayakers, rafters and bundled-up spectators have gathered along Winnipesaukee River to carry out the city’s “First Day” paddling tradition.
“It kind of sets Franklin apart,” said Choose Franklin board member and First Day organizer Dan Darling on Friday. “We can do something not a lot of places can do.”
New Hampton resident and Franklin Service Credit Union employee Kathy Horgan said that while whitewater rapids have been few and far between this season, the full Winnipesaukee River was all the talk on online message boards, and people have been itching to get in the water.
“It’s the best river,” she said. Horgan was watching for her husband, David, to paddle by, and as she did so, she looked around. “It’s grown so much – it’s huge this year.”
Butch Nixon, a gray-bearded 63-year-old Methuen, Mass., paddler who has done “all of them,” said, “It just seems to be building year after year.”
Even a newspaper reporter was roped into celebrating the new year on a raft and was bumped, swirled and dunked in the gray-green water. Lifejackets, drysuits and paddles aren’t typical newsroom equipment – instead, they came from Marty Parichand.
Parichand, a 33-year-old Epsom resident, is the man behind Outdoor New England, or ONE. ONE, he explained Friday, is the result of a dream thought up while backpacking in Costa Rica five years ago. It’s intended to be a retail store, instructional center and place to rent equipment all in one.
“I’m trying to build Outdoor New England as a diversified business to support the revitalization of the region,” Parichand said. “We want to be a hometown paddle shop. It’ll put the city into a positive light, and it’ll all become an amenity that people want.”
Specifically, Parichand is looking to highlight Franklin and the surrounding towns’ access to trails and whitewater rapids. He’s collaborating with developer Todd Workman to form a nonprofit to support the Lakes Region trail system. Currently, three Colby Sawyer students are interning and helping map out and connect the 134 miles of trails.
Parichand compared that project with what currently exists in the Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which he considers “a national attraction.”
And, of course, Parichand is interested in whitewater rafting and kayaking. He’s been paddling in Franklin’s three rivers since 2005, and over the years, he’s witnessed the energy that exists around the sport in the city.
“I think you could go anywhere in the country and find whitewater” rapids, Parichand said. “Not everywhere you could go and find guys carrying their kayaks two blocks.”
He added that he’d like to see a whitewater “play park” installed in the area. Parichand said a $13,000 grant is being developed in order to build one.
“The crazy thing about Franklin is the infrastructure is already here,” Parichand said. “You just need the initiative.”
To get ONE going, Parichand has spent his nights and weekends for the past couple of months renovating 376 Central St., a downtown storefront he now has thanks to Workman and the various volunteers that have helped remove 10,000 pounds of trash, three ceilings and five walls.
On Friday, ONE consisted of exposed brick walls, unfinished floors, whiteboards in a storefront that will be replaced this month, and some rafts, kayaks and paddling equipment. Parichand’s website, outdoornewengland.com, just went live, and to celebrate First Day, he held a raffle and handed out free beer in conjunction with professional microbrewer Keenan Blum.
Blum, who is in talks with Workman, plans to open a brewery next door. In the next shop over – the nonprofit Franklin Studio coffee shop – a “Marty special” panini was offered.
Parichand said June 1 is his goal to open full time. In the meantime, he’s working on his space, reaching out to community members such as Workman and Jo Brown in the Franklin Studio, dreaming up local outdoor recreation events and making future plans for his business. He especially wants to work with schools and children when ONE is operational in order to connect younger generations with the outdoors and create environmental literacy.
Parichand said he expects “flow moments” – moments where someone is completely concentrated and immersed with what is at hand – during whitewater rafting are a good place to start.
“I think in those moments, you can reach kids in the outdoors,” Parichand said. Of his own flow moments, he said, “If I didn’t have those experiences in college, I would have turned into a totally different person. It has an impact that changes you.”
When on a whitewater rafting run, one flow moment just passes on into the next. It’s hard to think about anything else when surrounded by fast-moving, cold water that spins you around a rock one minute and plunges you down a drop the next. Before you know it, you’ve covered two miles of the Winnipesaukee River.
Brown, of The Franklin Studio, said her native city’s revitalization has been much the same – the store fronts have filled up one after the other over the last 15 months, and Parichand, microbrewer Blum and others will be next.
“I think this next two years will be very telling,” she said. “I think it’ll take off.”