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Kayakers brave Winnipesaukee River rapids in celebration of Franklin's First Day

New Year's Day paddlers were all smiles as they emerged from the rapids of the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
January 09, 2019
FRANKLIN – It was windy and cold on New Year's Day, but weather never deters the kayakers who arrive in Franklin each year to paddle the rapids of the Winnipesaukee River during the annual First Day celebration at Trestle View Park.

Spectators lined the river at Central Street in Franklin last Tuesday to watch as group after group of hardy outdoor enthusiasts made their way through the raging waters beneath the trestle bridge then glided to shore at the park. For many, it's as much of a tradition to watch as it is for the paddlers to take on the rapids.

"I'm here to take a photo to send to my friend and tell her I missed the registration date for this year but I'm already signed up to do this next year," joked Sandra Burnay, a frequent spectator.

Those who actually did take part, no registration required, were excited about the conditions of the river last week. Andrew Fournier of Northfield is very familiar with the Winnipesaukee River and said the water this year was just as he likes it.

"This is such a good level today. I've already taken two runs this morning and I'm going to keep going as long as I can," said Fournier as he dragged his boat up the riverbank.

Two-year veteran of the event, Mike of Townsend, Mass., agreed, saying the rapids were "big and meaty" this year.

A relative new comer to the sport, Eric of North Conway said he began swift water kayaking four years ago and now owns seven boats. He first traveled to the New Year's Day ritual in 2015 when he realized he needed more experience. He said he made several trips to Franklin in the summer months to familiarize himself with the river but came back this winter and was glad he did.

"I got rollin' out there today. About halfway down the river by the railroad bridge, I flipped over, but it was okay. I righted myself and kept going. There're some out there doing cartwheels and splats on purpose though. It's a blast," he said.

Ted Stiles of Stratham is a former faculty member at New Hampton School, where he also took students out for kayak lessons. He said each year he checks conditions on both the ski slopes and the Winnipesaukee River before he makes his New Year's plans.

"The conditions have been bad for skiing so far this winter, so I decided this was the year [to run the river again], and I'm glad I did," he said.

Stiles and other kayakers said they also attend the annual slalom event in Tilton each June. Most of all, however, they were excited about the Mill City Park at Franklin Falls plan to bring white water kayaking to Franklin throughout the summer months.

"I love this river. To have a water park here will be awesome. There's nothing like that anywhere around; maybe Texas is the closest one I know of," said one out-of-state kayaker. "I think it will be a nice draw for downtown Franklin and I know I'll come!"

In between their whitewater trips from Cross Mill Road in Northfield to Trestle View Park, many of the kayakers enjoyed some time inside the warming tent provided by First Day Franklin. Among the food and beverages served were hot mulled cider courtesy of the Three Rivers Republican Committee and bowls of the traditional Hoppin' John dish from Franklin Outing Club. There were also informational booths from Mill City Park at Franklin Falls, Franklin Savings Bank, and the outing club, which will kick off their 57th Annual Winter Carnival activities on Jan. 26 with a casserole supper, bonfire and sledding.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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