FRANKLIN — Mill City Park, the first whitewater park in New England, officially opened Friday on the Winnipesaukee River.

While hard core, more experienced kayakers might normally eschew a manmade “waterpark” in favor of a natural river, Mill City Park and its “standing wave” were a hoot for Greg Hanlon and his friend, Phil LaMarche, to practice on, Hanlon said.

Hanlon, who hails from Lyme and is a retired hydrological engineer and dam regulator with the Army Corps of Engineers, penned “Steep Creeks of New England: A Paddlers Guide to 29 Class V Runs for the Experienced Paddler” 30 years ago.

The men rode the wave forward, backward and sideways, doing so a couple hours before a group of dignitaries, including Rep. Annie Kuster and Mayor Jo Brown, participated in a riverside ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The standing wave “is kind of like the climbing wall at a gym,” Hanlon said, and it should be a popular draw to the Mill City Park which, overall, Hanlon deemed “awesome.”

LaMarche, who is an English professor at the State University of New York in Canton, said the park was “great.”

“My dad lives in Bristol and he’s been following the news (about Mill City Park) and he’s been sending articles to me,” said LaMarche, which is why he traveled there with Hanlon.

Looking around Phase 1 of Mill City Park, which includes the standing wave and an amphitheater on the south bank of the Winnipesaukee, LaMarche said there were significantly more onshore spectators than there were kayakers in the river.

Brown said it has been and remains the plan to use the park to bring people, and their money, to Franklin, be it to watch or participate, and for both short and long visits.

Mill City Park, which was envisioned by Marty Parichand, the owner of the Outdoor New England expedition store in Franklin, is a game-changer for the city, she said.

“This moves us past the closing of the paper mills,” said Brown, although the park, like the mills, relies on the river.

Since she and Parichand began working on Mill City Park some seven years ago, there has been an infusion of new businesses into Franklin and the redevelopment of, among other buildings, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall into nearly a dozen “high-end condominiums” and of the Stevens Mill into 153 market-rate apartments.

The Stevens Mill project will be completed in July 2023, said Brown.

Through Mill City Park and the economic activity it has created – the State of New Hampshire, Brown noted, has estimated that the park could bring more than $6 million into Franklin annually – “We’ve come back to our roots in a way,” she said.

Brown hopes that Mill City Park, which is a public/private partnership, will secure an additional $1.6 million in federal funding to install two more whitewater features upstream, after which there’ll be a temporary halt on further development.

With Mill City Park now open, “This is our turn to shine,” said Brown, who admitted, however, that there were moments of doubt for her and Parichand.

She said she remembers wondering, “Are people going to believe enough that this could happen in Franklin” and also the remarks of some who questioned whether her business, The Franklin Café, which is in the same central Street building as Outdoor New England, could succeed.

“You’ll be closed in six months,” Brown recalled some people telling her, before pointing out that The Franklin Café is now in its seventh year of operation.