Ocoee River Corridor
History of the Ocoee River
History of America's Favorite Whitewater
The Early History of the Ocoee River
Long before thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the Ocoee River, this pristine waterway significantly shaped the region’s history. The river was originally inhabited by Native American tribes, who recognized its abundant resources and bountiful wildlife. They revered the Ocoee as a sacred place, honoring its power and bounty through rituals and ceremonies. The name “Ocoee” comes from the Cherokee word “Uwagohi”, referring to the perennial bloom of Passiflora incarnata (also known as the Wild Apricot or Passion Flower).
With European colonization came new explorations of the area surrounding the Ocoee River. Settlers were drawn to its fertile banks, utilizing it for transportation and trade. As time went on, logging became a prominent industry along the river, with towering trees being harvested to meet the demands of growing towns and cities.
Eastern Tennessee Power Company began construction on Dam #1 (leading to Parksville (Ocoee) Lake as part of a hydroelectric project. This altered not only the landscape but also profoundly impacted the flow of water within the river itself. The historic wooden flume diverted the waters of the upper river into the elevated water path. This concentrated the water pressure for the hydroelectric powerhouses.
Eastern Tennessee Power Company constructed Dam #2, which would later become the start of the Middle Ocoee rafting trip.
Photo Courtesy of Industry History
June 14, 1920
Tennessee Valley Authority purchased the power system of Dam #1 & Dam #2, and began construction of Dam #3.
Dam #3 construction is finished, which will become the location of the Upper Ocoee.
Photo Courtesy of Tennessee Valley Authority
Hiwassee Scenic River State Park formed. The 23-mile (37 km) stretch of the Hiwassee River from the North Carolina state line to US Route 411 in Tennessee, is the first river to be designated by the State Scenic River Program
The Birth of Ocoee River Whitewater Rafting
The wooden flume was shut down for reconstruction after a rockslide damaged the flume, and the Ocoee River flowed. Rafters started showing up with army surplus rafts to take on the exhilarating rapids.
First commercial rafting companies start operating on the Ocoee River
Tennessee Valley Authority agrees to a release schedule to allow rafter use of the river.
Ocoee River added to Hiwassee Scenic River State Park. The State Park is renamed Hiwassee Ocoee Scenic River State Park.
The Upper Ocoee River is home to the 1996 Summer Olympics canoe slalom event and makes history as the first and only natural river used for the canoe slalom event.
The Whitewater Wars is published by David Brown, with the history of saving the Ocoee River and Gauley River for water releases so rafting and boating could continue.
On April 26, Ocoee Whitewater Center burns down in a devastating fire. The building is a total loss.