Making a splash: Frankin whitewater rafting park hosts three-day festival
Concord Monitor | Leah Willingham
A native of Franklin, Bill Yacopucci has seen the view from Central Street of the city’s iconic Trestle Bridge all his life.
On Friday, Yacopucci got to see the weathered traintracks and 50-foot wooden beams from a new angle.
“It’s the first time I’ve gone under the Trestle, after all these years of looking at it,” Yacopucci said, after finishing his first run whitewater rafting down the Winnepesaukee River.
Yacopucci and his childhood friend Jeff Parker were two of five people in Mill City Park Executive Director Marty Parichand’s raft Friday afternoon, using plastic oars to navigate rapids, rocks and spray as they made their way downstream. Parichand, who also owns the Franklin sporting goods store Outdoor New England, started the nonprofit to bring a whitewater park to New Hampshire’s smallest city with hopes that the business will boost the struggling mill city’s economy.
But while the whitewater park was intended to be a destination for paddlers from across New England, many Franklin residents have taken a liking to the idea, too.
This weekend, Yacopucci and Parker were enjoying runs downriver in inflatable rafts for Franklin’s first ever three-day whitewater festival. Onlookers gathered in Trestle View Park to drink beer, eat tacos, check out sporting and craft vendors and watch paddlers float down the river in multi-colored crafts.
On the way down, Parichand shouted commands from the back of the boat, telling rowers to paddle a little harder to the left or right. The rapids become harder to navigate as paddlers make their way downstream, Parichand said, which is a nice progression for beginners.
Parichand, originally from Epsom, knows the placement of every rock and obstacle in Franklin’s neck of the Winnepesaukee River. He can tell if there’s even a small new tree down in the riverway, making him an efficient guide.
Parichand’s first time paddling in the area was in 2001, and since then he’s run the course thousands of times, he said. Just last year, he said he made 300 runs.
When taking a new group down the river, Parichand points out remnants of each of the six textile and paper mills that line the short stretch of river.
“Every rapid has a story,” he said, bringing the boat to a halt so the group could take a look at the ruins of the old site of the International Paper Mill.
Parichand said whitewater paddlers call the rapids next to the crumbling and graffitied brick building with three arches “Colosseum,” one of many names they give to areas on the river.
Some of the others are “Railroad,” “Snowmobile,” “Iron Ring” and “Zippies.” Some are more self explanatory than others – Iron Ring, for example, is named after a rock with an iron ring on top of it in the middle of the river.
“Whitewater kayakers give names to everything,” Parichand said. “Most people don’t know what any of them mean, but we do.”
Yacopucci said he was particularly interested in seeing the Sulphite Railroad Bridge, known in Franklin as the “upside down covered bridge,” from the river. The historic bridge was burned by teenagers in 1980, when Yacopucci and Parker were in middle and high school. Yacopucci, who lived near the site of the bridge, said he remembers seeing smoke from the flames the day it burned.
All that is left now are the trusses and the roof of the old bridge, but Yacopucci said the spot will always be special to him.
“It was nice to float under it,” he said.
The whitewater park nonprofit has given opportunity to many Franklin residents who might not have ever spent time on the Winnepesaukee River otherwise.
Timothy Morrill, a seventh generation Franklin resident, said he’d never been on the river until he met Parichand. Now he’s a regular, learning how to teach others how to raft. Morrill said he and Parichand went 14 times down the river together this past January.
“To me, paddlers and outdoor recreation, living on the river and using the river again is going to be Franklin’s future,” Morrill said.
The city of Franklin estimates the whitewater park could boost its economy by $5 to $6 million per year once completed.
Parichand said he’s hoping that the preliminary design for the park will be done by fall. There is still work to be done removing debris in the water left over from the city’s milling days, as well as creating diversions along the river to control the water flow for boaters’ safety, he said. The work is done through donations from local people and organizations like the Franklin Savings Bank and a grant from the United States Economic Development Administration.
Parichand said he is expecting 700 to 1,000 people to attend the whitewater festival this weekend. He said there are people coming to Franklin to attend from every New England state and beyond.
Bob Connor, of Reading, Mass., is one of them. He was finishing up a run on an inflated single-person raft Friday afternoon at Trestle View Park.
“It’s a great river,” Connor said. “It’s not boring, it’s exciting almost the whole way.”
Parichand said people can still sign up to go on a whitewater raft this weekend in Trestle View Park. He said he hopes the festival will give people a taste of what’s coming to Franklin in the future.
“This is just the beginning,” Parichand said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing where this goes.”