Mill City Park at Franklin Falls Project, Franklin, NH

VHB worked closely with the City of Franklin, the Mill City Park non-profit organization, and Colorado-based design firm Recreation Engineering and Planning (REP) to build New England’s first whitewater park. This community revitalization project is unique in the way it combines land development with aspects of historical preservation and environmental rehabilitation. The project focused on restoring the health and usability of the Winnipesaukee River and surrounding land, which was impacted by past industrial uses, historical mill ruins, and invasive species, to create a community benefit that provides access to free, healthy recreational activity. The project had to overcome many challenges as it sought to enhance a 1.25-mile stretch of Class III and IV rapids, including 1,600 feet of river with engineered features allowing year-round river recreational use. As the first park of its kind in the Northeast, the project was subject to an unprecedented environmental review process. VHB provided permitting support and environmental analysis to prove the feasibility of the river construction, designed the first phase of a complementary land-based park, assisted in the creation of a 21-acre conservation easement along the river, and supported the construction of the first phase of the project in 2021-2022.

Throughout the project, VHB’s scientists, engineers, and cultural resources team applied their deep understanding of the environmental implications of the project, and incorporated methods for preserving natural ecosystems and creating a sustainable design. As river parks grow in popularity out west, Mill City Park serves as a framework for urban river park development here in the Northeast. The project demonstrates how a sustainable and ecological approach to restoring a community’s natural assets can support economic and social vitality.