Friday, May 10, 2019

Cocke County rafting industry continues its growth
The whitewater rafting community of Cocke County met with Duke Energy officials on Thursday to talk about the upcoming rafting season. Duke Energy supplies the whitewater through its Waterville power plant, into the Pigeon River. Last year 180,000 rafters went down the River with the 12 rafting companies who are licensed to operate on the waterway. Those rafters each paid a $2.00 rafting fee or a total of $360,000 which went directly into the General Fund coffers of Cocke County. But the industry brings in additional revenue through sales tax collections, other expenditures by visitors and contributions to employment in the local community. Jason Grooms of Five River Adventures is President of the Pigeon River Rafting Association, the local industry group. He says increased marketing would mean more rafters and in turn more revenue for the community. "The county should be using the rafting fees to offset the cost of operating the river and that could include increased marketing. We have come up with a couple of good marketing plans that we worked together on in the past and we would like to see them continue," Grooms said. Both the Waterville put in and the take-outs in the Hartford community are packed venues during the peak rafting season. So can the industry handle even more rafters? "I think we still have plenty of potential for growth. The put-in is pretty well organized, the river officers do a good job keeping things moving," he said. "It looks like organized chaos with all the buses and people, but it works. As we grow we continue to tinker with the system." The Cocke County Finance Committee has been talking about using some of the rafting fees to promote the local whitewater industry. Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger says she believes more money should be earmarked for the industry. "Whatever we can come up with to promote the industry. Because anytime we can invest in ourselves is a good day." Thye mayor said she is not sure in what direction the county legislative body will move in its attempt to bolster the industry.

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