Unnaturally felled: Blue Hole rope-swing tree chainsawed

On a just-about perfect June day with school out for the summer, Monticello High sophomore Jack Farrell headed to the legendary swimming hole lying upstream from Sugar Hollow Reservoir– Blue Hole with its world-class rope swing– and a rude discovery awaited. The tree from which the rope has been hanging had been chainsawed and left to die in the pool below.

'We're pretty bummed," says Farrell, 15. "The tree lies just in front of the rocks that are good to jump off, so it eliminates that, too."

Blue Hole is that rarity among swimming holes: publicly accessible and yet not closely monitored by official bodies. Until now. And like diving boards, a rope swing increasingly is forbidden fruit in a liability-conscious culture.

The City of Charlottesville owns the 1,024-acre tract of land that holds Sugar Hollow Reservoir on the western end of the Albemarle County at the base of the Shenandoah National Park.

And perhaps because it is not an official park, Blue Hole managed to avoid official scrutiny for a long time. Even now, government bodies point to each other when asked who ordered the hit on the rope-swing tree.

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority leases Sugar Hollow water rights from the city, but the city is responsible for the rest of the acreage, says city attorney Craig Brown.

"I can't say I've been consulted about [Blue Hole] recently," says Brown. He says he would have had a lot of questions about the potential liability from such an "attractive nuisance," as lawyers call fun things that can injure.

"We try to minimize risk," explains Brown. "The underlying question: is it safe?"

It turns out Blue Hole's safety record is spotty.

"We've gotten called out there multiple times," says Crozet Volunteer Fire Department Chief Preston Gentry. "There were some serious injuries."

Most recently in May, the weekend of UVA graduation, according to Gentry, a 54-year-old woman in town to see her son graduate from UVA Law School instead spent the weekend hospitalized after breaking her hip and collarbone in a swing gone bad.

"I made several phone calls to the city several years ago asking them to cut it down because of liability," says Gentry, noting that the volunteer fire company was called up to Blue Hole eight times last year.

City parks and rec director Brian Daly says the Blue Hole chainsaw massacre didn't come from his office, and his office doesn't do much maintenance at the popular rec area.

"We do a very little bit– some grading of the parking lot or fixing a sign," says Daly.

Charlottesville public works director Judy Mueller says through a spokesman that as far as she knows, Rivanna Water and Sewer would be in charge of Blue Hole. That agency's director, Tom Frederick, claims in an email the swimming hole is on federal land as part of the Shenandoah National Park.

A Shenandoah spokesperson is dubious because Blue Hole lies outside the Park's marked boundary, but she had not confirmed that at press time.

With all the uncertainty about who is responsible for the property, and with even Albemarle officials professing ignorance, the possibility looms that a rogue lumberjack took matters into his own hands.

The Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm advertises Blue Hole on its website, and owner Dick Cabell says it was popular with his guests.

"We tell them to enjoy swimming," says Cabell. "We don't advise them to go off the rope swing. That's for kids."

Cabell had heard a few weeks ago the tree had been cut down, but had no information on the chopper.

"It's a two-edged sword," says Cabell. "People enjoyed it, but it was dangerous, I have to admit."

Starr Hill Brewery's Mark Thompson has been swimming in Blue Hole since he was around 12 years old and recently took his own daughters there. He watched as 14-year-old Dominique mustered the courage to swing off the rope.

"I remember how proud I was– that rite of passage, that coming of age," says Thompson. "Sometimes you have to conquer your fears."

On the flip side, as a parent past the giddy recklessness and perceived indestructibility of youth, Thompson does admit to wondering, "How would you ever get someone out of here? It's an isolated spot. What would you do?"

Read more on: blue holesugar hollow


Who cuts down a tree to get rid of a swing!?
That's like taking out benches to get rid of poor people.

It’s call personal responsibility. If people would stop suing every time they get a boo boo the gov’t wouldn’t take away the toys.

Sad to see the rope gone but the swimming hole has become so littered with TRASH. We were driving home from snake hole and several young boys in a pick up truck were speeding around the corner and ran us off the road. More trash!

i remember the days when Blue Hole was a secret, much coveted swimming hole, only known to a few locals. It reached more popular status among the general public sometime in the 80's, much to my dismay. One of the great things about Blue Hole was no one knew about this wonderful jewel. It doesn't surprise me about the rope swing being removed. It was great when fewer people knew it existed.

Deleted by moderator.

She went off the rope swing at 54?? And then wants to sue someone?

So many of the small charms of Ch'ville are gone. Sure this is soon to be cleaned up and fenced off.

Born Martha Jefferson, 1952, AHS '70, UVa '74 and left in 76 never to return

Max, hope you ended up in a place that you think is so much better than C'ville. For all the people who don't like it here I've got a thought for ya: Get the hell out.

Nooooooooo! NOT The Swing! A wonderful piece of Tom Sawyer-ish fun now gone. Sad, sad, sad. And they would not even remove the fallen tree from the water.
How ironic that just after the story is an online ad for zip lines. Or perhaps a perfectly placed ad...

@see ya...I think Max said he left town. I'm not far behind. Cville as a city is a wreck. Crime, drugs, dirt. The countryside is filled with litter. I trout fish up the Moormans and the number of clowns that race up and down the access road takes away all of the peace and solitude. It makes it especially nice because every time one of the cars race past, the occupants have a need to shout, hoot and give a rebel yell when they pass by. Charming. Whatever draw Cville had is long gone. It's just another city, and it's one on the decline. The downtown mall area is flat out dangerous these days. I don't have a clue as to why there is such an infatuation with all things Cville.

As to cutting down the tree. It was a good move on the part of whoever did it. It will make the place safer. There is another rope swing on the Moormans that could stand to be taken out.

You'll notice I didn't say it was a perfect place, but it's one I've chosen to call home, and a place I'd like to participate in making better. There are knuckleheads all over the country, good luck finding your utopia. There are a bunch of people who love to tear apart every perceived problem they see here, but rarely do those people stand up, act accordingly, and try to make it a better place. Much easier to sit behind the computer and take potshots at this town and the people who live here. I've lived in much worse places, and I'll take my 15 minute drive to the country in all directions any day. The amenities, shopping, restaurants, sporting events, countrysides, and easy access to surrounding areas make it an area that's tough to beat. Go drive around DC, or Richmond, or Hampton Roads, and tell me how you like it. Oh, and check out the crime, trash and traffic and let me know how it compares.

Damn Fun-Burglars.

I was tired of seeing all the UVa kids there, making unbelievable noise, swimming in the reservoir (!), and leaving their trash there.

Maybe this will keep them away and those of us who actually live in the area can enjoy it in peace.

I can understand if a storm knocked the tree down, but the jerk who sawed it down should be hung from the highest limb! Do we need "officials" from the government (even local government) to "protect" us from one of the most fun things we like to do in the summer? This is an OUTRAGE!!!

@ equal enforcement – At what level of ignorance did you write your last post? Are you so uninformed to think that the Crozet VOLUNTEER Fire Department performs solely in face of fire? When was the last time you saw an accident on the side of the road that only had a police car or an ambulance? Waiting...waiting...waiting...jack-pot! The fire department does whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of the public it so willingly serves. The fire department is a top-notch organization comprised of 100% volunteers whom dedicate their time and effort whenever necessary and face a plethora of emergencies on a daily basis. It’s not a matter of whether or not “they don’t feel like walking through the woods to fetch someone injured”, it’s a matter minimizing the expendability of the resources at the department and to make sure they are utilized in the best possible manner to serve the remainder of the community - not spent 10 times a year at the Blue Hole. And no, you cannot charge them with vandalism or illegal woodcutting (if that is such a charge). The fire department has the ability to do what is necessary to protect the citizens of the rural community it serves. I suggest you take a visit to the station at some point. I think you would be amazed at what you find.

First of all there are WAY more dangerous things that people do every day. Driving your car out to Sugar Hollow is more dangerous than using common sense whilst swinging into Blue Hole. Secondly there is now a tree in the middle of a perfectly good swimming hole.

It doesn't matter who cut it down, whoever owns the land should go up there and get the tree out of the way so people can still swim there. Stop bickering about who cut it down and do something about the problem at hand.

What's done is done and there in no point in beating a dead horse.

I've lived here for 30 years (wasn't born here but I grew up here) and I have seen a change in the city in the last few years too. The rope swing disappearing is sad, but the trash is worse. Whatever happened to "Leave only footprints, take only memories" (or Facebook photos)?

A friend of mine was up their in May when that lady got hurt. He told me the fire department cut the tree down after they got her out.

An eye witness says that this tree was chainsawed by a male rescue squad member on Saturday, May 19, 2012. The rescue squad was there to assist someone who had just hurt herself on the swing. The amateur lumberjack / EMT claimed it was because he was "tired of coming out here" to deal with people injured while using the swing, so he decided to cut down the entire tree, apparently without anyone's permission.

Looks like that EMT lumbewrjack may be liable for vandalism or destruction of public property. Maybe this will cause whoever really owns Bluehole to speak up to assert their claim for damages.

Thanks to this forum the Hook provides. It's an added bonus to the news to help us all uncover the truth!

Nimrod EMT worker!!

So they removed a rope swing and introduced an underwater entrapment hazard in the name of liability reduction?

Hey, Cindy--I'm still climbing and pruning trees for hire at 56, 54 is hardly an old broad for a swing off a rope into a pool...See Ya--lighten up ; yes, Max seems extreme in his anti-C'ville-ness, but it's entirely true (observing over 13 years) that small town charms are evaporating from C'ville, whether it be a rope swing, the shoe cobbler, or a free air pump...and, speaking as one who has been a neurotrauma doc for 25 years, I was aghast at that rope swing, which for years was nothing but a thin polyester line, but worse yet TERRIBLY located, and nothing more than a perfect set-up for splitting skulls and leaving oozing brain matter for the foxes to nibble at...however, Mark is entirely correct about the new hazard.

Of all the things to do, they cut down a tree? The need to clean the place up. I have had to personally clean garbage from Sugar Hollow. It is disgusting. The garbage cans are filled to the top and overflowing. I have found baby diapers on the edge of the water at blue hole, and they were full. Sugar Hollow has turned into a real dump. And thats were Charlottesville gets its drinking water from.

They will be cutting down a whole lot more trees where Charlottesville hopes to be getting its drinking water from in the future. I say hopes because that new reservoir won't have much water without a pipeline to fill it and no one even knows where or when that might get laid, or how much its going to cost us all. Seem like common sense is a thing of the past around here in general.

The EMT should indeed be questioned. I cannot understand cutting an entire tree because of a swing. Cut the SWING! It was a rash, unauthorized action taken by someone who had no authority over the property. Yes, perhaps it is a hazard, and perhaps the swing was unsafe, but this was not the way to handle the situation.

Agreed! This is why women need to rule the world. This cutting was exactly the kind of aggressive, controlling, destructive male behavior that the UVA Foundation does (and I'm speaking as a male). They plowed under a beautiful vintage cabin from the 1930s (the last of its kind in the inner county) in order to stop me from using it as a location to pose models for fine art B&W photography (and I had even done carpentry and masonry repairs on it to make it safe AND had gotten permission a few years earlier). As for "tree begone", damn, you surely should move on and start fresh somewhere with a positive attitude.

Yes, let's make this a sexist debate. Women are never ever never rash or unthinking. They are always rational.

Oi vey you miss the point entirely. Does ANYone imagine that saw was fueled by estrogen rather than testosterone? Here's where I sign off folks; chat forums almost always end up way out in left field.

whatever dude. it was fueled by reactionary idiocy; something women are quite capable of. estrogen is a non-sequitur.

Logic used might have been: swing is problem, cut swing to stop problem; what if another hangs new swing; problem recurs; cut new swing to stop problem; what if another hangs newer swing; problem recurs; Real Solution, cut tree. Done. Problem prevented. Also, drop tree in front of rocks-- second problem prevented since people can no longer (conveniently) jump from rocks. No more injuries from years-long problem that proper authorities have not fixed. Have safer day. PS: As some people learned the hard way, alcohol and swimming-holes don't mix safely, swing or no swing.

I was at Sugar Hollow Monday. I directed a family to Blue Hole. Then I walked past the garbage palls overflowing with garbage. It has not been picked up in weeks. What a joke, here is another hazard that does not get anyone's concern. Priorities are backwards.

dear hook. trees in front of rocks equals new hazard. Dead trees are slippery and round. Now people will fall on rock from elevated tree. Tree over water... people become entrapes when/if tree shifts.

Solution does not equal a solution.

@Mark: I agree, tree in water as reported is dangerous. I was just guessing at the tree-cutter's logic.