OCOEE RIVER AREA HISTORY


The Ocoee River, as we know it today, has been formed as it cut a deep gorge through the hard granite folds of the Appalachians. A mountain range believed to have been created 250 millions of years ago.

In the bed of the Ocoee River, the bands of folded rock are clearly visible, when the water is turned off at the dam. The layers of rock, similar to those on the walls of rock lining many of the roads and highways in the Tennessee Valley and Ohio River Valley, are visibly worn. Numerous potholes, rounded and carved out bowls and tunnels down into the metamorphic rock, created by gravel depositing in a depression and then churning in a circle over time, have been carved out over the millions of years the river has flowed down stream.

During these millions of years, geologic processes also formed large veins of copper under this particular area of the mountains. There were three main veins of copper present in this corner of Polk County, Tennessee. The original inhabitants, Cherokee Indian farmers, produced limited amounts of copper, during their residence in the area, which began ending with the Treaty of New Echota in 1836 and finished with the forcible removal of most of those remaining with the Trail of Tears. After the removal of the natives, white settlers were slow to move in due to the lack of roads.

Over time, settlers did move in, as did companies looking to smelt the copper known to lie beneath the soil. However, copper mining also suffered from the lack of roads. Even with progress and the development of roads, the mining efforts continued to suffer from the lack of rail access, strife created by the Civil War and the terrain. The railway did eventually come to this area and mining continued in spurts. However, the effect on the environment of the copper basin was immense. The most famous of these mines, now a museum, is the Burra Burra Mine. The Burra Burra Mine and its surrounding area have been preserved in their ravaged state as a testimony to the effects on the environment by the mining process. The high sulfur content of the copper, created sulfuric acid and released it into the atmosphere. The Copper Basin resembled a desert for more than 50 square miles: a barren landscape, void of vegetation. This area is still recognizable from space, due to the stark contrast between the copper basin and the surrounding areas.

Over time, copper mining became unprofitable, and new technology permitted sulphuric acid products to take its place. Eventually, all mining ceased in the area, with sulphur being imported for acid production. Reforestation efforts began as early as the 1920's and have continued ever since, with more than 16 million trees having been planted.

Given the Copper Basin's history, many environmental groups and projects have emerged, working to protect the area and the water. Among them the Conasauga River Watershed Ecosystem Project, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, and the Ocoee Whitewater Rodeo, an annual event held to raise money for river conservation.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors to this area have grown to appreciate the power of the whitewater and the growing beauty of the area. Being an easy day trip from Atlanta GA, Chattanooga TN or Knoxville TN, and all points in between, the Ocoee River is a quick mini-vacation available to those with even the smallest time frame.

Water quality
TVA Water Use
EPA water quality report