Copperhill, Ducktown, Ocoee, Benton, Isabella and the Copper Basin
Ocoee River • White Water Rafting • Outdoor Adventure
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As we crest the south ridge of Pack Mountain, you'll see a wall of blue toned mountains running north to south on the opposite side of an enormous plush emerald green valley, this is Polk County, Tennessee. Polk County is a historical county filled with mountains, lakes, whitewater rivers, a majestic wilderness and a story that tells the tale of past land abuse, in the name of progress and wealth. The green valley of upper Polk County is coming back to life, as a results of a great reclamation plan organized to restore life to a land devastated by acid rain, logging and copper mining.
Prior to the 1850's the Copper Basin had already began to suffer due to the burning of forested land by the early settlers. Copper ore was discovered in this region in the 1820's. From the time of this discovery through 1987 the Copper Basin had the largest metal mining operation in the Southeastern United States. Early profiteers gave no attention to the environment, cutting down every available tree for copper smelting, creating an acid rain that killed over 60,000 acres. This turned the land into what was later described as having the appearance of a red moonscape.
Several large mines dot the landscape with Hiwassee Mine being the oldest, Isabella, the Burra Burra Mine in Ducktown and the Company of Copperhill Tennessee. Additional logging in the Cohutta Mountains made matters worse. The scars are mostly hidden now, but the history of the mines is alive in the hearts of the hearty mountain folk who did the back breaking labor in the mines, and called their employer, "The Company."
The US Forest Service purchased the devastated land, and a reclamation plan began with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930's. It has continued through the efforts of at least three copper companies as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority. For more information, check out the The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture's "Copper Basin Reclamation Project."
Two mining towns served the Copper Basin area, Ducktown and Copperhill. Copperhill, the larger town is located on the banks of the Ocoee River as it crosses into Tennessee. Across the state line adjoining Copperhill, is the North Georgia town of McCaysville. The Ocoee River becomes the Toccoa River once it crosses the Georgia state line.
Copperhill: is now a town of quaint shops, several eateries and lodging and in-town living built into the mountainside.
Ducktown: a classic mining town. The Burra Burra Mine site, on the edge of Ducktown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Ducktown Basin Museum tells the story of this local mountain mining region. Both Copperhill and Ducktown are railroad towns serving the copper mines and logging industry.
It's the 1850's, so how do we get the copper to market? Transporting the heavy loads of copper, over what is now designated as a wilderness land of steep mountains, would be difficult to impossible. Down grades are the easiest way to the market and the Ocoee River Gorge was the only conceivable way down to the Tennessee River Valley below.
US 64 west you'll approach the base of the Cohutta Mountains and begin a short climb to Boyd Gap, we have now entered the Cherokee National Forest of Eastern Tennessee. There's an overlook at Boyd Gap on the south side of US 64, although it is hard to notice without looking for it. From this overlook, you can see the grandeur of the Cohutta Mountain Wilderness northern region. Keep in mind, these mountains also suffered from the logger's saws at the turn of the century before the National Forest Service re-established these mountains to their present beauty. In the narrow valley below and to the west you can see the upper Ocoee River but don't necessarily be looking for water. The river is controlled by a system of dams. The water may not always be visible, but the multitude of large boulders forming the river bottom are.
The original Ocoee River trail, became the Old Copper Road. This narrow trail following the Ocoee River had to be widened for freight going and coming into the Copper Basin Area, today we know this road as US 64, and a special part of the Southern Highroads Trail.
The Ocoee River is a hard, forceful, natural, scenic whitewater river, whose water flow, and steep gorge seemed impossible to tame. On the northern bank of the Upper Ocoee River you'll find the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The Ocoee Whitewater Center was built to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Kayaking events. This is a great place for a break from driving. This section of the river was constructed boulder by boulder to create a course worthy of the Olympic games. The course only has whitewater flowing thru it on specified days between spring and fall, the main river is diverted to the north. Low level water always flows through the course creating wading pools along with small cascades amongst the numerous boulders, throughout the visitor's area.
To the east of the Ocoee Whitewater Center, along the northern banks of the Ocoee River, is a section of the original Old Copper Road, it is now a well maintained trail. A hiking or trail bike trip along this trail you'll find a mostly level but rough and rocky trail with hand cut granite boulders, from one end of the Ocoee Gorge to the other. This example of early trail blazing makes an asphalt thoroughfare a welcome modern marvel of engineering.
Leaving the Ocoee Whitewater Center and heading into the gorge, past a power station, round a big curve you'll reach a narrowing, steeper gorge and Ocoee Dam No. 2, the oldest of the Ocoee Dams. It's called the "wood dam" and it appears to be covered with a concrete type sealant. When the water flow is high, the dam works as a huge, thundering waterfall. On the opposite end of the dam are two flood gates, one opens onto the river below the dam, while the other gate flows into a wooden sluice or trough that follows high along the southern wall of the gorge.
Ocoee Dam No. 2 is the middle Ocoee launch site for whitewater rafting and kayaking. These first rapids are rated a "class 4" for intensity, a quick learning experience for the novice adventurer. This set of rapids is rightfully known as, "Grumpys." Here we begin an exciting ride along the banks of the Ocoee River, under the shadows of a long wooden box filled with water.
The Ocoee Gorge narrows with descent. The river below averages 5 to 12 feet down from the roads edge. There is no shoulder on the north side of the road. Occasionally you can find a narrow pull off on the river bank side of the road for whitewater viewers and photographers. Be careful if you choose to pull off, and when you re-enter traffic, a lot of the road has blind turns and it is hard to see what is coming around the bend.
The thing I enjoy the most about the gorge is its accumulation of natural and man-made features. Nature created its force and beauty, man harnessed its power, making the gorge a melding of man and nature. The Old Copper Road and the Ocoee River are an exciting ride both on the road and on the river. The Ocoee River gorge is the only gorge on this journey where a road follows so closely to the whitewater, offering a constant view of the whitewater thrill. If you are interested in whitewater you'll enjoy the Blue Ridge Highlander's story, "Ancient Waters, Thrilling Ride".
Continuing down the Ocoee River Gorge with the water-box hanging overhead, we come to an old stately brick powerhouse that receives the pressure as the water in the box ends its journey, and dumps its load back into the Ocoee River. After the power station, the Ocoee River begin to level off, the perfect place to unload the big air rafts for the journey back up the gorge. This where the rafting enthusiast tell their tales and the rafting guides prepare to take another group down the river. The trail down US 64 continues along gentle curves holding the river close in its grip, the now calm waters of the Ocoee River begin to merge with the turquoise blue waters of Ocoee Lake as we exit the gorge.
Staying along the northern shores of Ocoee Lake, on US 64 we continue westward with Chilhowee Mountain rising sharply on the north side of the road. Ocoee Lake with its islands, channels and surrounding mountains is definitely a photo opportunity and has several overlooks along the lake's northern shore. Halfway between the gorge and Ocoee Dam No. 1 at the western end of the lake is a National Forest Ranger Station in the Cherokee National Forest. Here you'll find a steep paved road that will take you up to the top of Chilhowee Mountain with numerous views of Ocoee Lake, the Cohutta Wilderness and the Tennessee River Valley below.
Following the shores of Ocoee Lake we come to a low mountain gap between Chilhowee Mountain and a beautiful cone shape mountain of modest size to the southwest. Ocoee Dam No. 1 is situated in the center of this gap. There's a pull off here with an overview of the dam, and a diagram of the TVA's watershed control. Below the dam is a park of interest. Here you'll find a kiosk with a large embossed 3D display of the water shed of all the southern highlands Western and Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. This display really helps to understand the purpose in controlling the water flowing from the mountains. Another interesting feature in the park is a miniature model of the Ocoee Whitewater Center's Olympic Water Course. There's no water in the miniature model now, but during its development, water from the Ocoee River was diverted and used to test the miniature model's effect on boulder placement, it then diverted the testing waters back into the Ocoee River.
Benton: Exiting the park, US 64 continues west on the Southern Highroads Trail. At this point, a separate road veers north from the park on Polk County Road 314. This route cuts across the farmlands and meadows to Benton, Tennessee. Benton is a quaint farm community below the far western slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, located on a direct route leading to Knoxville Tennessee.
Polk County is a world of two lands, Upper Polk County and Lower Polk County. Upper Polk County is the land of high mountain wilderness, copper mining history, and the 18.8 mile John Muir Trail. The Hiwassee River, Conasauga River and the Ocoee River flow from Upper Polk County into Ocoee Lake and across the farmlands of Lower Polk County.
The lower lands of Polk County and the valley beyond has a cultural history older than the adjoining highlands. This is part of the region known as the Tennessee River Valley. Over the last 250 years, the valley's history evolved due to three main influences. The first influence was the Native American and white settler conflicts in the early expansion of America. The second was the the Civil War campaign efforts to control the key southern city of Chattanooga and defeat the Southern Army in the Battle of Atlanta. The third influence was the TVA's construction of a network of dams and lakes, to control the flooding waters from the Blue Ridge and Cumberland Mountains into the Tennessee River Valley. This monumental task, was the work of the 1930's government project known as the Tennessee Valley Authority Watershed Control Project.
Within the boundaries of Tennessee's Polk County are some of the most outstanding scenery in the United States. Known for three beautiful rivers, the Ocoee, the Hiawassee and the Conasauga, Polk County offers a natural settings for hiking, tubing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding riding, and backpacking in a land of beauty and mountain wilderness.
Hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails weave throughout the Cherokee National Forest revealing spectacular waterfalls and overlooks, colorful leaves and wildlife.
One thing to remember when planning a visit to Polk County, one day is never enough to experience the beauty, history and excitement. Come and stay several days, a week or longer in any of our beautiful and unique log cabins and lodges or bed and breakfasts. You'll be glad you came.
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Copperhill • Ducktown • Isabella • Ocoee • Turtletown • Reliance • Benton
Polk County • Tennessee Overhill • Tennessee River Valley
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The Ocoee River is often described as the roller coaster of the southeast. Come experience what has been called the greatest whitewater center in the world.
Professional river outfitter with over 30 years experience. Our safety record is unsurpassed in the industry. We believe our staff is simply the best in the business. Guides are chosen for their character and enthusiasm for sharing the outdoors with you.
White Water Rafting on the Ocoee and Nantahala Rivers • Horseback
Riding • High and Low Ropes Course • Giant Swing • Caving • Paintball • Mountain Biking • Camping & Cabin Rentals
Catch the surge and ride the rapids on the exciting Ocoee River in Tennessee or North Carolina's Nantahala River for an experience you won't forget. Challenge your skills on the high ropes just for the thrill. Sit tall in the saddle for a leisure ride through the beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Camp out or stay in log cabins while letting the kids sleep in groups in one of several bunkhouse's. We will help you create a custom retreat for you or your group.