Bradley County, and the area surrounding it, presents residents and visitors alike with the chance to partake in many different outdoors sporting activities. From whitewater rafting to biking, the chance to get outside and be active is basically no further than 30 minutes away.
Just one county over in Polk County on Highway 64, the Ocoee Whitewater Center (OWC) sits at the site once used as the canoe slalom venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
“The reason we’re here is from the Olympics and the legacy of that,” assistant center director Sherry Hicks stated. “We take care of the site and the people that are here. You never know what it’s going to be from day to day.”
The legacy of the Olympics is evident in the sheer number of visitors to the region, as the Ocoee River was recently recognized as the most visited whitewater river in the United States, based on a study led by economist and University of Tennessee associate professor Steve Morse.
According to Hicks, the OWC itself averages just over 300,000 visitors annually.
“On the weekends, we have the commercial rafting and private boating — the kayaking and play-boating that goes on here. When the water is not high, we have water play, swimming, wading and playing in the water,” Hicks commented.
The well known “Blue Hole” as well as some lesser known swimming holes are located some 200 yards above the OWC.
Thanks to its location in the midst of Cherokee National Forest, the Whitewater Center is also a convenient starting point for those who are seeking out a drier form of recreation.
“There’s 30 miles of hiking and biking trails that take off from this point. We have a huge audience of mountain bikers and people who come and hike,” Hicks explained. “There is a one mile accessible pathway around the site, so people of any ability or physical disability can get out and do some wandering around.”
These 30 miles of trails are a part of the Tanasi Trail System, and are all highlighted on the various maps that are available at the Whitewater Center, with the majority falling under the easy or moderate classification. All of the trails are also of dual use, and are open to hikers and bikers alike.
Over the years mountain bike races have popped up on the trails at the OWC.
“We have three big mountain bike races every year, and those are recurring races, one of them has been going on for eight or nine years,” Hicks said.
The Southeast Regional Championship and the Cohutta 100 both take place in the spring, while the Black Bear Rampage occurs in the fall.
As one would expect, the peak season for the center spans from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The center’s hours vary depending on the season, while the site itself is open during daylight hours year-round. From mid-March to mid-November, the OWC is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From mid-November to mid-March, it is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with the exception of Christmas and New Years.