Visitors who took whitewater rafting excursions on the Ocoee River last year pumped $43.8 million into the economies of the 30 counties that surround the river, according to an economic impact study released today.
The Ocoee River, site of the 1996 Olympics rafting competition, was the most visited whitewater river in the United States in 2012.
"This study shows that tourism and visitor spending at the Ocoee River is fueling small businesses, creating jobs, worker paychecks and taxes in rural Tennessee," said Steve Morse, an economist and associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who conducted the study.
The study found that Ocoee whitewater rafting supported 622 jobs, helped generate $14.12 million in worker paychecks and contributed $3.57 million in tax revenues for the river's tri-state area last year.
UT's Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management conducted the study in partnership with the Ocoee River Outfitters Association and America Outdoors Association.
For the study, Morse and graduate student Eric Beckman examined the impact of visitors to the 60-mile region surrounding the river. They surveyed the spending patterns of 3,118 visitors rafting the Ocoee River between June and September 2012.
Morse and Beckman then analyzed the spending of 229,542 visitors who took rafting trips during the year. The number of users was taken from the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation's report on Ocoee River usage.
After the Ocoee River, the other four most visited whitewater rivers are the Arkansas River in Colorado, Pigeon River in Tennessee, Nantahala River in North Carolina and Lehigh River in Pennsylvania.
"Having the Ocoee now officially the nation's most popular whitewater river reinforces that Tennessee is a top-tier outdoor destination,” said Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
Get breaking news from the Times Free Press on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timesfreepress or by visiting us on Facebook or Twitter at the right: