The Ocoee Whitewater Center in Polk County, Tennessee, which hosted the 1996 Atlanta Olympics whitewater events, is “a complete loss” after a fire early Tuesday morning, officials said.
A passerby reported the fire just after midnight Tuesday, Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross told CNN. Several fire agencies responded and were able to put the fire out, he said.
“The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the cause of the fire,” according to a news release from the US Forest Service, which now operates the center.
No one was injured in the blaze, according to the Forest Service.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center, located about 115 miles north of Atlanta, claims to be the site of the “world’s first Olympic whitewater event on a natural river.” The river’s flow was modified to “enhance its rapids” for the Olympic Games, according to the center’s website.
It is now a popular recreational area where visitors can raft down the Ocoee River with local outfitters, bike or hike its trails, or just enjoy a picnic. About 300,000 people visit the center each year, according to the Forest Service.
“First, we are just so grateful that no one was injured during the fire and thankful to our partners for their assistance in getting the fire under control and investigating the cause,” Mike Wright, acting forest supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest, said in a statement Tuesday.
“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,” Wright said.
The center will need to be “completely rebuilt,” Ross said.
The center’s building had been closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the day-use area was scheduled to open next month, according to its website.