Ocoee Whitewater Center Deemed Total Loss After Devastating Fire

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the U.S. Forest Service are investigating the cause of an overnight fire that burned the Ocoee Whitewater Center to the ground Tuesday morning. Multiple surrounding fire departments responded to the blaze and were able to get it under control with no injuries, but the building, located in Polk County, was deemed a total loss by officials. 

“First, we are just so grateful that no one was injured during the fire and thankful to our partners for their assistance in getting the fire under control and investigating the cause,” Mike Wright, acting forest supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest said. “The Ocoee Whitewater Center was a unique site not just here on the Cherokee National Forest, but across the Forest Service. It is a difficult loss for us.”

The Ocoee Whitewater Center building engulfed in flames at night
Photo via Cleveland TN Fire Department

The center is best known for hosting the first Olympic kayak and canoe events on a natural river during the 1996 Olympics. Since then it has hosted over 300,000 annual visitors, who have enjoyed the many outdoor recreation opportunities the center offers. 

According to a statement from the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, “The Center was quite literally the crown jewel of Polk County. In spite of having been closed the past couple of years due to the COVID pandemic, outdoor enthusiasts continued to enjoy the trails and sidewalks, picnic areas, and scenic overlooks of the mighty Ocoee River.”

The Polk County Executive Office issued a statement that says county executive Robby Hatcher is working with the U.S. Forest Service to get the Whitewater Center replaced and that recreational rafting will continue throughout the rafting season in Polk County. “This loss will affect our community due to the fact of the Whitewater Center being a destination for the River Community and the tourism in which our County depends on.”   

The center and associated trails are currently closed as the TBI continues to investigate the cause of the fire. The Polk County Chamber of Commerce says, “all our other outdoor recreational resources are open for business as usual and the river is running, so come on out and enjoy!”

Cover photo via USDA

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