Copper is an important metal; the water that comes into your house is usually carried in copper pipes.
Copper was discovered in Polk County in 1843 and within a few years it was being mined there. Unfortunately the method of extracting raw copper in those days created sulfuric acid as a by-product. A lot of this sulfuric acid ended up the ground in Polk County.
By 1900 thousands of acres of Polk County was completely void of vegetation. Today the trees and animals have begun to come back, but the environmental damage remains and is still being cleaned up, especially in the streams that pour into the Ocoee River.
The best place to learn about all this is at the Ducktown Basin Museum.
Today, when people think of Polk County, they are more likely to think about rafting and kayaking than they are copper mining. Both the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers are ideal for whitewater recreation, especially since the Tennessee Valley Authority controls the water levels of both by use of dams. Therefore, both rivers are frequented by summer users. In fact, the Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom Competition.
Polk County also boasts the state's most entertaining train ride. The Tennessee Valley Railroad, which is based in Chattanooga, has a passenger route that heads up the tracks that are along the Hiwassee River and takes you to Farner, which is near the North Carolina boarder.
Along the way it goes through the "Hiwassee Loop" -- a place where the tracks encircle a mountain nearly twice before crossing over themselves along a 60-foot railroad trestle!
Polk County was also the home and the final resting place of Nancy Ward, who was often known as the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.