FRANKLIN — Civic leaders are cheering Gov. Chris Sununu for including $1.5 million in his proposed 2020/2021 budget for the creation of a whitewater park, the first of its kind in New England, on the Winnipesaukee River in downtown Franklin.
“When I visited Franklin last May to announce New Hampshire’s Opportunity Zones, I was intrigued by your vision for the Mill City Park,” Sununu wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Marty Parichand, the executive director of Mill City Park at Franklin Falls.
Sununu agreed that it was “only logical” that one of the rivers that once powered Franklin’s mills “should be part” of the city’s resurgence, in explaining why he recommended “a $1.5 million investment in one-time funds in my budget for Mill City Park.”
On Tuesday, Parichand said if Mill City Park, which is a public/private partnership with the City of Franklin, is built, it would be a game changer for the municipality and region.
He and others see Mill City Park “as the catalyst that fills up unused space, brings opportunities for entrepreneurs or makes fiscal sense for businesses to relocate to Franklin.”
Also the features at the park “are just the kinds of things that attract millennials to the places where they not only play, but also work and live,” Parichand said.
These features include three whitewater activities in the river where paddlers can hone their skills: a competition “hole,” a standing wave, and a training area for beginners and intermediate-level participants. The facility would also offer a bicycle “pump track, walking trails, and terraced steps/seating,” he said.
“I think we’ll find that a lot of young professionals, young families, will start looking at Franklin with a new focus,” said Parichand, who is also the owner and operator of Outdoor New England, a canoe and kayak store located a short walk west of Franklin Falls.
In January, the city was awarded a $512,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to construct a pedestrian walkway on its existing trestle view bridge to connect Mill City Park to the base of the Winnipesaukee River Trail.
On March 4, the Franklin City Council considered and was expected to approve the filing of an application to be used for Mill City Park with the Community Development Finance Authority for $750,000 through its Tax Credit Program.
Outdoor recreation is booming nationwide, said Parichand, noting that, in recent studies, outdoor recreation generated $887 billion in revenue. New Hampshire has recognized the importance of outdoor recreation, he added, and a bill has been introduced this legislative session to create such an office within the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
Mayor Tony Giunta and Judie Milner, the Franklin city manager, echoed Parichand’s delight that Sununu is backing Mill City Park.
“We all know that the economic benefit of a local tourist attraction extends well beyond the borders of the town or city in which that attraction is located,” Giunta said in a prepared statement on the city’s website.
“I want to thank Governor Sununu for his vision in supporting this new segment of the tourism industry and helping us attract a whole new group of outdoor recreation enthusiasts to our City, surrounding communities and our State. I urge our legislators to please support this worthwhile initiative.”