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Ocoee Whitewater Center logo In 1994, the Forest Service began building a world class slalom canoe/kayak race course in order to expand paddling opportunities on the Ocoee River and promote economic development in the Ocoee Region. The grand debut of the race course was at the 1996 Olympic games. Now the Ocoee Whitewater Center (OWC) is not only one of the world's best whitewater race facilities, but it is also a center for nature-based recreation in southeast Tennessee. Numerous geologic aspects were considered during the planning, design, and construction of the whitewater course. But let's start at the very beginning.


The OWC sits on the "Ocoee Supergroup," which includes two major rock types called argillite and metagraywacke. These rocks are arranged in nearly vertical layers. The argillite is black, fine-grained, and readily breaks into thin layers. The metagraywacke is gray, coarse-grained, and forms massive layers with occasional large fractures that are filled with quartz in some places. All of this started forming about 750 million years ago when streams carrying eroded clay, sand, and gravel deposited layers on an ancient sea floor. These sediments eventually hardened into rock layers more than 4 miles thick. Although the rocks you are standing on formed underwater, they did not form here. Between 330 and 270 million years ago, during a collision between North America and Africa, the rocks buckled and folded. They were detached from underlying layers in large sheets and pushed westward for more than 60 miles to their present location. The result is the nearly vertical beds of argillite and metagraywacke, folded and compressed like the bellows of an accordion, which can be seen throughout the Ocoee gorge today.


Other rocks were brought to the OWC in order to build the levees, highway, embankments, and the Administration building. The levees and embankments were made of over 60,000 tons of rock -- some desk-sized and weighing about 7 tons. The new levees pinched the river to almost one-half of its width in order to create the needed water flows for whitewater racing. Before construction, the river was cleaned to remove woody debris, loose rock, and sand. Limestone core rock was placed in the clean and dry river bed. Then sandstone boulders were set individually on top of these to mimic the natural arrangement of rocks in a river. The rocks were grouted to the bedrock, and to each other, to ensure stability. The limestone buffers acidity and improves water quality along this section of the Ocoee. The sandstone boulders maintain the natural character of the river and were gathered from a mountainside boulder field on the Cherokee National Forest. At the Administration Building, sandstone was used for the terraces and building veneer. Marble was placed in bands across the terraces to resemble the quartz veins in the metagraywacke outcrops of the Ocoee gorge.

Also, in order to create world class rapids, fourteen artificial or "faux" rock features were built in the river. The same company that created the Ocoee faux rock built rock for the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

OCW admin building


Thumbnail of tour map To take the geology tour, click on the thumbnail map.


Late Proterozoic -- 750 million years old. A metamorphosed shale, fine-grained, similar to slate but splits less readily. Dark gray to black argillite often contains gold-colored cubes of pyrite, an iron sulfide.

Late Proterozoic -- 750 million years old. A metamorphosed medium- to coarse-grained, poorly-sorted gray sandstone. The metagray-wacke beds may contain pyrite and are inter-bedded with black argillite.

Early Ordovician -- 500 million years old. Brought in for construction from a Tennessee valley quarry. A sedimentary rock consisting mostly of calcium carbonate. The color is light gray.

A sedimentary rock composed mostly of quartz sand.

Lower Ordovician -- 500 million years old.

Building stone
Pennsylvanian -- 300 million years old. The building stone was brought from a quarry near Crossville, Tennessee. The color is tan with pink and white variations, often with pyritic orange spots.

Early Paleozoic -- 450 million years old. A metamorphosed limestone. The white marble in terraces is similar to marbles quarried near Tate, Georgia.

*NOTE that the iron stain comes from weathered pyrite and colors both of these rocks a rusty orange in the river channel.

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U.S. Geological Survey

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Last updated 8-17-99