As we kick off yet another summer Olympics, I wanted to re-visit one of the most historic Olympic facilities ever built, and it just happens to be about a two hours’ drive from Huntsville near Ducktown, Tenn.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center was constructed along the natural river that played host to the canoe slalom competition of the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, marking the only time an in-river course has been used in the Olympics.
The OWC facility is so unique, it was awarded a gold medal of its own, becoming the only non-competitor to receive a medal during the 1996 Olympics.
Today, the Ocoee Whitewater Center still attracts its share of visitors.
The park itself covers four acres in the middle of Ocoee River Gorge, encompassing part of the Ocoee River, two pedestrian bridges crossing the river and multiple trailheads. The center, operated by the National Park Service, is a wonderful gateway to experience the wonders of nature in the Cherokee National Forest.
The OWC markets itself as being a marriage of the natural and artificial worlds because prior to the ’96 Olympics, the river in this section was modified to create world-class whitewater, which is still enjoyed today
The river is controlled by TVA to produce hydroelectric power, but the waters are opened up on summer weekends to allow for whitewater rafting and kayaking. A summer weekend visit offers activities for even the pickiest family member or friend.
Hiking/biking trails – There are hundreds of trails in the Cherokee National Forrest, including many with trailheads at the OWC. In addition to the nature trails, there are plenty of historic trails you can visit.
Learn about nature – Talk to the rangers at the information area, or visit some of the various displays throughout the OWC, and learn about the unique environment of both the Cherokee National Forest and the Ocoee River Gorge.
Stroll along the river – Both sides of the river here are paved with nice pedestrian walks and offer strolls by the river for those looking for something less challenging than a nature trail.
Watch some whitewater sports – Weekend rafting trips are big business on the Ocoee River with an estimated 750 people riding the river each day in rubber rafts. In addition to people on guided rafts, you will find many kayakers braving the rapids, some of whom have come from the far reaches of the world.
So, sit on the rocks, or better yet watch from one of the bridges as boats hurtle past. You might even get encouraged to take your own rafting trip, and there are more than 20 commercial companies that will be happy to help you out.
If nothing else, just stop by and take a tour of this one-of-a-kind Olympic facility almost in our backyard.