POLK COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A popular tourist attraction and historic site in Southeast Tennessee was destroyed in a fire early Tuesday morning.
Polk County emergency officials said crews responded to the fire at Ocoee Whitewater Center. The building has been considered a total loss, and fire officials told News 2, that the area will remain closed off.
No injuries were reported, but the cause of the fire is still unknown. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will be joining the investigation.
The Forest Service has also announced closures for nearby trails that were impacted by the fire.
Ashley Miller with the department said, “They’re trails that are very close to the center that either start by the center or are right by it. And that’s just for public safety to make sure that, you know, the people out there are safe while we’re doing, you know, cleanup and investigations.” She added the fire was still smoldering.
The following trails are closed while the investigation is underway:
- Rhododendron Trail
- Bear Paw Loop Trail
- Old Copper Road Trail
- 64 Connector Path
- Chestnut Mountain Loop/Bear Paw Connector Trail
Images from the scene showed massive flames coming from the building. Polk County Deputy Sheriff Tyler Nelms who took the video said he was “at a loss for words.”
“One thing that our county was proud of is now gone,” Deputy Sheriff Nelms posted on social media.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center was the venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The Ocoee is the only natural river course to ever be used for Olympic slalom competitions. It hosted about 300,000 visitors a year.
Miller said, “We all woke up this morning to find this out, you know, this is where a lot of us work, or a lot of us have spent time there, a lot of us, you know, recreate on the same forest we work at.”
Mike Wright, Acting Forest Supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest said in a statement, “The Ocoee Whitewater Center was a unique site not just here on the Cherokee National Forest, but across the Forest Service. It is a difficult loss for us.”
A nearby highway was shut down in both directions for some time but has since reopened.