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A new exhibit opening Friday, July 29, at the Museum Center at Five Points explores the Ocoee River's past, present and future. "One River, Many Stories" continues through mid-December.

If you go

› What: “One River, Many Stories” exhibit.

› When: Friday, July 29-Saturday, Dec. 17. Museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.

› Where: Museum Center at Five Points, 200 E. Inman St., Cleveland, Tenn.

› Admission: $5 adults, $4 students, senior adults; groups of 12 or more.

› Phone: 423-339-5745.

› Website: www.museumcenter.org.

Did you know?

The 93-mile-long Ocoee River is a tributary of the Hiwassee River.

The river is called the Toccoa for 56 miles that runs through Georgia until it reaches Copperhill, Tenn., where the name becomes Ocoee.

It was the site of the 1996 Olympics whitewater competition.

The Ocoee has the longest continuous stretch of class III and IV rapids of any other river in the country.

Source: Various internet sites

From hydroelectric power generation to commercial outdoor recreation, the Ocoee River serves Southeast Tennessee, and in particular Bradley and Polk counties, in numerous ways.

But what happens when multiples parties with an interest in the river's management collide? Whose interests take precedence: government agencies or the river's whitewater/rafting outfitters?

This is the focus of a new exhibit that will open Friday, July 29, in the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland, Tenn., continuing through Dec. 17.

"One River, Many Stories: Ocoee River History and Heritage" will follow the river's history from early American Indian usage, through the construction of its first dam in 1910, to the advent of commercial rafting highlighted by the 1996 Olympics.

Emma-Leigh Evors, Museum Center curator of collections, says the exhibit includes several dozen past and current photos, plus an Olympics display that includes the Olympic torch and a kayak used by the Russian team.

"There is a particular plant — Ruth's golden aster — that only grows in this region and is on the endangered species list. Visitors can read all about that in the exhibit, and we'll be looking at the hellbender salamander, which is not on the endangered list but close," she says of the display.

But unlike many museum exhibits that review only past history, this Ocoee display casts eyes on the future.

"The current recreational use agreement between the outfitters and TVA is set to expire in 2019," says Evors. "Unless they reach another agreement, recreational use of the river will disappear and it will once again be used solely for power generation."

That topic and other economic perspectives of the outfitters will be discussed tonight at a members-only reception by Blake McPherson, river operations and marketing manager for Cherokee Rafting Co. He will further explain the contract ending in 2019 as well as "discussing all things having to do with the outfitters on the Ocoee River," says Evors.

She stresses the museum is not aligning itself with any of the involved parties through this exhibit.

"We are just stating facts and making people aware of the situation and the importance of the river. They can draw their own conclusions."

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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