Ocoee River rafters. (Photo: Contributed)

The Ocoee River is officially open for business this season.

Federal, state, and local officials joined Ocoee River Outfitters on Monday to hold a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to kick off the whitewater rafting season and celebrate the historic renewal of a management agreement signed in 2017 by the State of Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority and USDA Forest Service.

“We look forward to providing safety and security on the river and to working with local outfitters to maintain the Ocoee River’s status as a world-class recreational opportunity,” said Tennessee State Parks Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill. “Tennessee State Park Manager Angelo Giansante and his staff at Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park are uniquely qualified to not only provide safety on the river but offer high-quality interpretive programming to our visitors to help them understand the park and the region.”

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Under the agreement, the State of Tennessee will be responsible for a commercial-use permitting program and oversight of commercial rafting activities on the Ocoee River, both administered by Tennessee State Parks. The State’s responsibilities will include all general operational and maintenance activities necessary to facilitate commercial whitewater operations. The State will also be responsible for emergency first response, law enforcement, traffic management, and other tasks.

“The Ocoee is one of the greatest whitewater experiences in the United States,” said Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Kevin Triplett. “The challenges of the water combined with the beauty of Southeast Tennessee truly is one of our state’s great assets.”

In early 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund Act, creating a Fund and Governing Board to support the contract agreement. Commercial outfitters pay a 10 percent licensing fee into the fund annually to reimburse the State for annual costs of its oversight and management through the term of the agreement. To support economic development in the region, the State is providing funds to offset TVA’s lost power generation from providing the recreational releases over the 15-year period.

TVA will provide water releases from Ocoee Dam No. 2 and No. 3 for a term of 15 years on the middle and upper sections of the Ocoee River beginning in 2019. TVA will also grant a recreation easement to the State across three tracts of land (approximately 27.2 acres in total).

“TVA is proud of the positive impact that the Ocoee River has on the economic prosperity of the region,” said David Bowling, TVA vice president, land and river management. “This historic partnership helps ensure that the Ocoee remains one of the most successful whitewater destinations in the nation.”

The Forest Service will continue to make two tracts (approximately 3.7 acres in total) available to the State to improve recreational river access. In compliance with law the Forest Service will allow TDEC to permit and administer all commercial rafting activities that originate on designated National Forest land in Cherokee National Forest.

Cherokee National Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris said, “We are pleased to be a part of this agreement. It will strengthen and deepen our connections with the public through outdoor experiences. This agreement exemplifies the spirit and intent of interagency cooperation that will help be an economic catalyst for the Ocoee region long into the future.”

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