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Rafting tourism boosts Cocke County's revenue

Last year, more than 300,000 people rafted the Pigeon River, according to the county clerk.

HARTFORD, Tenn. — On Cocke County's Pigeon River, a rising tide of tourists lifts rafting boats and the county's bank account. 

Last year, rafting fees accounted for more than $500,000 added to the general fund — the second-largest source of revenue trailing only property taxes, county clerk Shaleé McClure said. 

"If that money was to be taken away from this county, our county would crumble. And that’s not a lie," she said. 

The county collects $2 for every rafter who floats down the river — and clears more money from licensing the rafting companies themselves. The money goes to the general fund, where the county can use it for river access improvements, park cleanups or even salaries for workers like McClure.

The amount of money collected continues to rise because the number of rafters continues to increase as well, the numbers McClure presented show. 

In 1995, a little more than 17,000 people went down the river. Last year, more than 300,000 rafters were put in on the Pigeon. 

"It's a great increase over the years and it's helped the county," said Jon Felderman, the owner of Big Creek Expeditions. "The rafting and the tourism in Cocke County have grown hand in hand."

Credit: WBIR

That's good for his business — and good for the county's bottom line. 

"If half a million dollars was taken away from our general fund in Cocke county, there’s many services that would not be offered," McClure said. 

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