The “POWER”FUL Ocoee River twists and turns through a steep sided gorge in the heavily forested mountains tucked between Ducktown and Cleveland, Tennessee. A drive through this gorge in the wintertime would lead one to believe that there was no way this little trickle could have played host to the 1996 Olympic Whitewater competition. The spring and summer months tell a different story and the river comes alive when the gates of TVA's dams are opened, allowing the powerful flow and the natural current of the river, to course downstream. The Ocoee is managed by a series of hydroelectric dams, owned by the TVA. When there is just a trickle of water in the riverbed that is when TVA is using the river to produce electricity – water is diverted around the middle section through a covered flume to a nearby powerhouse; after passing through the generators and producing electricity, the water is returned to the river. During rafting season, the dams are opened following a schedule and the Ocoee guarantees a consistent water supply for whitewater paddling.
The river offers thrilling rafting on Class III and IV rapids. All of the rapids have names, some of them ominous ones. Vegomatic is about a mile above Double Trouble, which is up river from Slice ‘N Dice, Tablesaw, Diamond Splitter, Slingshot and Hell Hole. You can hear the effects of the most turbulent stretches and drop-offs of the Ocoee: the shouts and shrieks of those being pitched downriver. The Ocoee is broken into three sections and is sure to please the beginner to the expert. Outfitters in the area can guide you through the upper and middle or you can sign up for either the upper, middle or lower section.
The Upper Ocoee was used as the whitewater venue during the 1996 Olympic Games. This riverbed was reshaped to provide the required hydraulic action to ensure world class rapids. This section of the river is operable weekends during the summer months. The Middle Ocoee has been the site of commercial rafting since 1976 when the flume was shut down for rebuilding. Once the flume work was completed it was too late to stop the whitewater enthusiasts. This is an experience you will not soon forget. Approximate trip duration is 4 hours. The Lower Ocoee (below Ocoee No. 1 Dam) starts at the base of Ocoee No. 1 Dam, at Sugarloaf Mountain Park; and lazily winds its way to the Hiwassee River a few miles away. It is great for tubing and for those without their own tube there are outfitters that can help you out.
The Ocoee River has an appeal that is growing, attracting more and more tourists to Polk County every year. In 2010, 240,000 rafters challenged the Ocoee River, America's only Olympic river. Can you hear the Ocoee, “U-wa-go-hi” or “Apricot Place” referred to by the Cherokee Indians calling your name? Contact one of the outfitters today to schedule your trip.
For more information about TVA dams visit www.tva.gov.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors serving more than 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. For more information about TVA and its mission of service to the Tennessee Valley, click here.