April 20, 2014 - 20:15
Ocoee River most popular in nation
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Polk County’s Ocoee River has been named the most popular river in America for whitewater rafting, with nearly 230,000 visitors in 2012.

Polk County’s Ocoee River has been named the most popular river in America for whitewater rafting, with nearly 230,000 visitors in 2012. An economic impact study presented by UT Economist Dr. Steve Morse says the Ocoee River supports 622 jobs and generate $43 million in annual economic activity within a circle of 60 miles around the river.

The five-mile “middle” Ocoee is the standard Ocoee whitewater rafting trip and features five miles of almost continuous whitewater. It runs at least 116 days per year. The “upper” Ocoee, where the 1996 Olympic canoe/kayak competition was held, runs 34 days a year. According to the study, paddlers running the upper Ocoee almost always combine the two sections for an all-day event. Both section feature Class III/IV whitewater, which features powerful, splashy rapids but does not require the skills necessary for Class V rivers.

Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker welcomed the study, commenting, “Having the Ocoee, the nation’s most popular whitewater river, reinforces Tennessee’s reputation as a top-tier outdoor destination.”

The study, commissioned by the Ocoee River Outfitters Association with support from the American Outdoors Association, included an on-site survey of visitors rafting the Ocoee River conducted June 8-Septmber 20, 2012. 647 surveys were completed, representing spending from 3118 visitors rafting the Ocoee. Morse, along with grad student Eric Beckman collected survey data. The economic impact analysis was completed by UT’s Department of Agricultural Economics.

“The study confirms that water in the Ocoee provides for an outstanding tourism destination, generates jobs, and adds to the economic vitality of the region,” Mark Singleton, Executive Director of American Whitewater said.

According to the report, rafting-related spending in 2012 sustained the equilavent of 622 full-time jobs and created more than $14.12 million in worker paychecks and income within the 60-mile radius of the river. The 622 jobs are considered full-time equivalent jobs when as many as 1480 part-time or seasonal jobs are converted to full-year equivalent jobs.

The 60-mile area includes all or part of 30 counties, which collected $3.57 million in state, federal, and local taxes from rafting-related spending. This $3.57 million includes $2.7 million in direct taxes (rafting outfitters, hotel and lodging, restaurants, retail, and transportation), plus $319,537 in indirect taxes by other businesses supplying raw materials, supplies, or other operating goods. $550,123 was generated from the “ripple effect” of spending and re-spending, the report said.

The Arkansas River in Colorado was ranked 2nd in the nation for visitation with just over 208,000 visitors. Tennessee’s Pigeon River attracted 169,000 visitors; the Nantahala in North Carolina brough in just under 166,000.

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