Tennessee’s Ocoee River Officially Most Popular Whitewater Rafting River in America

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According to a recent economic impact study, the Ocoee River is now the most visited whitewater river with tourism and visitor spending fueling small businesses, creating jobs and taxes in Tennessee.

Whitewater, Ocoee, rafting

Ocoee Rafting

Having the Ocoee now officially the nation’s most popular whitewater river reinforces that Tennessee is a top-tier outdoor destination.

The Ocoee River is officially the most visited whitewater river in the United States with 229,542 visitors in 2012, according to the results of a recent economic impact study on the Ocoee River Region.

After the Ocoee River, the other four most visited whitewater rivers are: the Arkansas River in Colorado (208,329), Pigeon River in Tennessee (169,060), Nantahala River in North Carolina (165,906) and Lehigh River in Pennsylvania (110,422).

The study was led by Steve Morse, an economist and associate professor in the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management and commissioned by the Ocoee River Outfitters Association and the America Outdoors Association.

Morse said, “This study shows that tourism and visitor spending at the Ocoee River is fueling small businesses, creating jobs, worker paychecks and taxes in rural Tennessee.”

For the study, Morse and graduate student Eric Beckman examined the impact of visitors to the 60-mile region surrounding the river. It includes 30 counties—14 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia and 3 in North Carolina. They surveyed the spending patterns of 3,118 visitors rafting the Ocoee River between June and September 2012.

Morse and Beckman analyzed the spending of 229,542 visitors who took rafting trips during the year. The number of users was taken from the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation’s report on Ocoee River usage. The study revealed that visitors to the Ocoee Region left a $43.8 million economic impact, supported 622 jobs, helped generate $14.12 million in worker paychecks and contributed $3.57 million in tax revenues for the river’s tri-state area.

“Tennessee’s scenic beauty and outdoor adventure are among the state’s best tourism assets,” said Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker. “Having the Ocoee now officially the nation’s most popular whitewater river reinforces that Tennessee is a top-tier outdoor destination. Congratulations to all of the outfitters who made this possible.”

The Tennessee counties surrounding the Ocoee River are Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Cumberland, Hamilton, Loudon, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane and Van Buren. The Georgia counties are Catoosa, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Towns, Union, Walker and Whitfield. The North Carolina counties are Cherokee, Clay and Graham.

The Ocoee River is also home to the Ocoee Whitewater Center, American’s only Olympic whitewater venue. Releases on the Ocoee are made possible through a collaborative effort by the Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the United States Forest Service and the Ocoee River Outfitters Association.

For a copy of the study, contact Steve Morse at smorse(at)utk(dot)edu.

Ocoee River Facts

  •     The five-mile “Middle Ocoee” is the standard Ocoee River whitewater trip. It features five miles of almost continuous whitewater (except for a brief pause at the “doldrums” half-way through the run.) The Middle Ocoee runs at least 116 days every year
  •     Just upstream of the Middle Ocoee is the “Upper Ocoee” where the 1996 Olympic Canoe/Kayak competition was held. The Upper Ocoee runs 34 days a year. Paddlers running the Upper Ocoee will most likely combine the trip with a run on the Middle, creating an exceptional full-day, ten-mile river trip
  •     The Ocoee River actually begins in Georgia as the Toccoa River and flows out of Lake Blue Ridge
  •     Both sections feature exciting Class III/IV whitewater, which ranks as intermediate/advanced for rafters. This popular level of difficulty features powerful, splashy rapids, but does not demand the expert skills required of Class V riders

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Melanie Beauchamp
Tennessee Dept. of Tourist Development
(615) 532-0484
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