Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 5, 2017

Partnership secures future of Ocoee whitewater

The Ocoee is one of the most popular family whitewater rafting adventures in the world. - Submitted

Whitewater recreation on the Ocoee River is set to continue well into the future under a new partnership between the Ocoee River Outfitter Association, the State of Tennessee, the U.S. Forest Service and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Key to the partnership was leadership from the State of Tennessee to establish the Ocoee River Recreational and Economic Development Fund. The initiative supports a new direction in Ocoee River management, marked by new interagency agreements and a commercial-use permitting program administered by Tennessee State Parks.

“This partnership recognizes that the Ocoee region is a major destination for river rafters and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world,” says Brock Hill, deputy commissioner for parks and conservation for the Tennessee Department of Energy & Conservation. “Securing the future of Ocoee River recreation provides a valuable return on investment both for the Ocoee River region and the state.”

The Ocoee whitewater industry contributes an estimated 600 jobs and $3.57 million annually in state, federal and local taxes per year, according to a University of Tennessee 2012 study. Visitor spending related to whitewater rafting trips on the Ocoee River generated about $44 million in economic activity, the study showed.

Under the plan established by the development fund, the state will provide regulation and oversight of commercial outfitters’ use of the river and services such as daily site maintenance, emergency first response, law enforcement and traffic management.

Commercial outfitters will pay a portion of revenues generated by rafting activities into the development fund to help cover the state’s expenses for providing these services. The state will provide these services on lands made available under easements and management agreements through TVA and USFS. TVA also provides the scheduled flows on the Ocoee to create the whitewater conditions.

The Ocoee, which was the kayaking venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics, is internationally recognized as one of the most popular family whitewater rafting adventures in the world.

“It has taken a lot of hard work to build this industry from a few hundred rafters in the eighties to now more than 250,000 visitors each year,” says Keith Jenkins, vice president of the Ocoee River Outfitters Association. “We’re looking forward to enhancing our partnerships to preserve the Ocoee rafting experience, manage costs and help us remain the world’s premier whitewater destination.”

The new plan will replace the current Ocoee River whitewater program contracts, which expire at the end of the 2018 recreation season. In addition to establishment of the Ocoee River Recreational and Development Fund, the parties also recently signed a formal letter of intent outlining the new whitewater management program, which will begin in 2019.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, TVA will lead an environmental review which will include opportunities for public input and comment.

“TVA understands the importance of the Ocoee River and how much it contributes to the economic prosperity of the region,” says Joe Hoagland, TVA vice president for Enterprise Relations & Innovation. “We’re grateful to the partners for their teamwork and determination to reach an arrangement that will benefit everyone involved.”