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The History of Ocoee River in Polk County Tennessee

Ocoee River as the water is being released

In the upper reaches of the highlands, natural springs release pure natural essence down the mountain slopes. These waters gather themselves into streams that find their way to creeks, flowing along until they merge with mountain rivers as they journey across the land and out to sea.

The Ocoee is one of these river mountain rivers. Its headwaters descend from the high country of northern Georgia into southeastern Tennessee, weaving its rushing whitewater westward, down the Ocoee Gorge and into Lake Ocoee. This particular river has been a favorite to rafters, kayakers and canoeist since 1977

Originally owned by the Eastern Tennessee Power Company, the river was dammed to build hydro-electric plants. The river is now controlled by three dams, operated by the TVA, [Tennessee Valley Authority, power company]. The river dams, Ocoee No. 1 and Ocoee No. 2 were built between 1910 to 1913, along with the historic wooden flume (trough) that diverted the waters of the upper river into an elevated water path, concentrating water pressure for the hydro-electric powerhouses.

The Tennessee Valley Authority purchased the power system in 1939. September 1976 the wooden flume was shut down for reconstruction and once again the river ran unabated.

People began showing up to the Ocoee with army surplus rafts to run the five miles of whitewater rapids. Rafters struggled with TVA to get the right to use the whitewater. After much resistance, TVA agreed to schedule water releases into the river, and commercial rafting found a home on the Ocoee River in 1977 .

Whitewater racing events have been held on the Ocoee since 1977, bringing the infamous gorge to the attention of the world. From three rafting companies in 1977 to twenty-four in 1997 the Ocoee River has become a world class whitewater river, accommodating 250,000 rafting visitors annually.

The upper Ocoee riverbed had been dry throughout most of this century, this allowed the manipulation and construction of a world class racing course. The Ocoee Gorge is also wider at this point with plenty of room for spectators. The Ocoee is approximately 100 miles north of Atlanta, all three of these factors made the Ocoee River the ideal place to hold the 1996 Summer Olympic's Slalom Canoe/Kayak competition. July 1996 brought 14,000 spectators and more than 1,000 volunteers/staff to the banks of the Ocoee River to witness the excitement of approximately "135 World Olympic Competitors."

The Olympics created a new course and awakened more people to the excitement of whitewater sports. Check out the story...Ancient Waters...Thrilling Ride, the opening of the upper Ocoee River

Ocoee River with rushing water

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