Freezing New Year’s Day tradition

01 03 New Year kayaking 1 Alan MacRae

A team of rafters make their way down the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin on Monday.  (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Kayakers tackle Winnipesaukee River despite below-zero temperatures

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

FRANKLIN — Ken Norton has been making New Year’s Day runs down the Winnipesaukee River for 30 years and this year was on board a raft which provided a dramatic moment for those who turned out in the frigid cold to watch the annual event.
“We lost somebody in the water just before the bridge abutment but managed to pull him back just in time,” said Norton.
He said it was the first time he’d made a run on a raft in a number of years and there was a good-sized crowd of 50 to 60 kayakers taking part and at least two or three rafts this year, a sharp contrast with last year when ice conditions for both launching and landing kayaks were so bad that only a handful of kayakers took part.
“A lot of people this year made multiple runs, which was kind of difficult because as soon as the water hit, you froze. It took 45 minutes for the ice to thaw so you could take off your life jacket,” said Norton.
But the gear kayakers are using today makes it a lot easier to deal with the elements, says Norton, who recalled making a run in the late 1980s with the Winnipesaukee River Rats, one of whom wore latex gloves taped to his wrists to ward off the water.
“I was warm except for my feet, which were in ankle deep water most of the run,” said Norton.
He said that the Friends of the Winnipesaukee River and the Merrimack Valley Paddlers banded together to sponsor the New Year’s Day Run in 1993 to bring attention to their opposition to a proposed hydro development that would have diverted river water away a natural course that creates whitewater rafting opportunities.
The lower stretch of the river from Cross Mill Road in Northfield to Trestle View Park in downtown Franklin is one of the favorite area for whitewater kayakers. The ruins of old mills line the riverbanks and the river drops sharply through a scenic gorge producing ideal whitewater conditions.
Marty Parichand, owner of the Outdoor New England store in Franklin, which held its grand opening a year ago on New Year’s Day, made two runs Monday, one in a kayak and another as the driver of a raft with six or seven people on board.
“It’s being in a raft. As a kayaker, you’re used to paddling all the time. But in a raft, it’s the driver in back who is guiding the boat,” said Parichand, who is working to make Franklin a year-round destination for whitewater enthusiasts.
Parichand is the executive director of the nonprofit Mill City Park, which aims to create a whitewater park on a 9-acre parcel of city land along the Winnipesaukee River.
He envisions it as a year-round place for people to paddle, ride mountain bikes along the river trail and sees the old mill foundations as part of the area’s economic history.
The organization recently received a $170,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration for the planning and permitting of the park.
The organization also received a two-year $250,000 grant from Franklin Savings Bank for the project.
He said the engineering firm that does the study will develop the full cost of project, which has seen preliminary estimates of between $4 million and $6 million. He estimates it will take eight to 14 months to complete the study.
Parichand said people from as far away as New Jersey came to take part in the New Year’s Day Run, which he says shows the wide appeal the project has.
“Colorado has nine river parks. We don’t have any in New Hampshire. We hope to see the river managed so there’s a steady flow of water every day of the year and be able to offer recreational opportunities for thousands of people,” said Parichand.

01 03 New Year kayaking 2 Alan MacRae

Andy Stuart from Washington, D.C., makes his way down the rapids. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

01 03 New Year kayaking 3 Alan MacRae

Scott Mabel of Boston and Steve Goudgeon of Ashfield, Massachusetts, compare notes after making a run down the Winnipesaukee River. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)