KNOXVILLE, Tenn., June 18, 2021 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- The Ocoee River earned international fame as the 1996 Summer Olympic site for the first ever whitewater kayaking and canoeing competitions. The river was dubbed by an observer as "the most fantastic whitewater slalom course in the world."
Twenty-five years later, the Ocoee River still swarms with kayakers and rafters from the world over. It consistently holds title as the most popular whitewater rafting venue in the United States, outdrawing even Colorado's Rocky Mountain-fed Arkansas River and the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania's Poconos.
"It is between us and the Pigeon River in Hartford, TN for taking the most people down the river each year," said Ryan Cooke, president of the Ocoee River Outfitters Association. "We go back and forth."
Given that the Pigeon and Nantahala Rivers are only a couple of hours away, either to the east or south, it's difficult to dispute that these Tennessee River Valley tributaries offer visitors an assortment of high-intensity river adventuring in the United States.
As a foremost recreation destination of international acclaim, the Ocoee has also become a hydro-powered economic engine that washes a sprawling area of Southern Appalachia with jobs and much-needed tourism dollars.
The most recent study gauging the river's commercial recreation benefits to the 30-county tri-state region determined that the rafting industry was fueling economic activity to the tune of nearly $45 million a year, supporting many hundreds of jobs, underwriting around $15 million in worker paychecks, and annually generating more than three-and-a-half million dollars in tax revenues.
The Ocoee's 24 outfitters permitted by the state of Tennessee to operate on the river are projected to navigate a couple hundred thousand soaking-wet thrill seekers down the exhilarating watercourse this year.
Recreation on the Ocoee River is undoubtedly a "major economic driver" to Polk County and the rugged rural counties that surround it, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said earlier this month during a media day celebrating the launch of 2021's rafting season.
"This place right here is a unique spot," said Lee, standing on the sun-drenched river bank and pointing to the Ocoee's sparkling, swirling currents a few feet away. "I knew when I was a kid that this was one of the most beautiful places in all of America. Now, being in the position that I am in, it is all the more important to me that all of America knows that this is one of the most beautiful places in all of America."
Lee and members of his administration on hand for the event commended the rafting outfitters and various local, state and federal stakeholders -- including TVA and the U.S. Forest Service -- who came together in 2018 to reach a new long-term river management and recreation-promotion agreement.
Floating In from Far-Flung Destinations
Diane Arnold of the Murray County Chamber of Commerce in North Georgia, which borders the Tennessee state line and Polk County, said her county views itself as a "gateway" to Southern Appalachian recreation. And local businesses there regard the Ocoee as a "regional asset" that benefits them, too, along with a host of other destinations in virtually every direction.
"We have a lot of folks coming through our county for outdoor recreation -- going to the Ocoee River or the Cohutta Wilderness or Fort Mountain State Park or even Gatlinburg," Arnold said.
Tourism is the top-performing economic sector for the county, and historic Highway 411 feeds steady streams of woodsy solitude and moving-water seekers not just from the Atlanta metro area, but urban centers throughout Florida, she said.
Waterborne Character Building
Besides being around the river on a daily basis, Cooke said the most fulfilling aspect of being a guide on the Ocoee is introducing people to an exciting, inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable activity that can change how they see the world.
Countless teens and young adults come to the Ocoee River each year through church groups and outreach volunteer efforts, many of them from urban and suburban environments worlds away from wild mountains and raging rapids.
"For many, it is a life-altering experience," Cooke said. "Running the turbulent rapids instills confidence, nurtures courage, stimulates elation and can spark a boundless love and profound respect for nature."
Mark Engler, TRV Stewardship Council, 8655850811, firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE TRV Stewardship Council