The crystalline water at Tamolitch Falls’ Blue Pool glistens like a topaz gem embedded in the lush foliage of the Willamette National Forest. Aside from the occasional sound of mountain bikers on the Mackenzie River Trail, Blue Pool feels like a place of untouched beauty and peace. A chalky dry cliff hugs the outer edge along the pool, towering 60 feet above the transparent depths below. A torrent of water once majestically cascaded over the cliff and into the pool, but in 1960, a hydroelectric project diverted water away from the falls. Now, an underwater current runs beneath the rocky overhang and into the pool. When there’s heavy rainfall in the winter though, the waterfall surges once again over the cliff. But while the waterfall at Tammolitch Falls represents a rebirth in natural beauty, it’s also a place of tragedy and death, most recently the death of 21-year-old Alex Rovello.
Most people in Oregon may know of Alex Rovello as a star tennis player both in high school and in college. At Cleveland High School in Portland, he became the first person in Oregon state history to win four straight tennis state titles. A life long duck fan, Rovello jumped on the opportunity to play tennis at the University of Oregon when he was offered a scholarship during his senior year. At UO, Rovello quickly emerged as a leader and face of the Ducks Men’s tennis team. In 2012, he posted a 22-6 record in doubles with partner Daan Maasland, putting the Ducks back onto the map as a contender in the Pac-12 conference. But even with so much athletic talent, Rovello’s impact on the UO community reached beyond the court.
“Alex was just a really good guy,” says UO senior Sarah Scrivens, a friend of Rovello’s since high school. “He never drank or smoked and he always had a smile on his face.”
On May 11th 2013, University of Oregon junior Alex Rovello headed out to Tammolitch Falls with a few friends to enjoy a sunny morning of hiking and swimming. While Blue Pool has always been a popular hiking destination for outdoor enthusiasts, it’s also a spot where thrill seekers can go to cliff dive. Friends and family close to Rovello will tell you that it wasn’t typical for him to take dangerous risks, but on that fateful day, he decided to give the 60-foot plunge a go. Perhaps it was the alluring beauty of the surrounding scenery that drew him into the exhilarating challenge. Or maybe he took comfort in the fact that people jump safely into Blue Pool every week. What ever the reason was, Rovello’s decision that day would cut short his young life.
Rovello landed face first into the water, hitting his head on a rock near the surface. The actual depths of Blue Pool can be deceiving to those who first see it. The water is so clear that there is an illusion of the pool only being about 15 feet deep. But knocked unconscious from the impact, Rovello sunk to depths of about 30 feet, failing to rise to the surface. Friends around the pool frantically tried to call 911, but cell phone service is rare in the remote wilderness of the Willamette National Forest and they couldn’t connect to authorities. One friend sprinted two miles down the trail away in order to finally find phone service to call for help. But by the time authorities had arrived, Rovello was pronounced dead.
The tragic loss of the young student athlete sent waves of grief rippling across the state of Oregon. On the UO campus, those who knew Alex struggled to comprehend the loss of their friend “It really seemed like a freak accident,” says Scrivens. “At first I didn’t want to believe it, but I’ve come to terms with it.”
For the UO tennis team, Alex still lives on in the hearts of his teammates and coaches. “I think about him everyday,” says Head Coach Nils Schyllander. “Everyone deals with death in their own way and it was a very difficult time for the team after we lost Alex.” The team dedicated a court at the UO Tennis Center in Rovello’s name, a reminder that he is and will always be a part of the team. And with an unprecedented 12-1 start to the season, it seems fitting to dedicate a spectacular season so far to the teammate who would have been a senior leader this year.
It’s almost been a year since Rovello drowned in Tamolitch Falls, and as spring weather begins to increasingly soak the region sun, there seem to be more people heading out to hike the path and see the azure waters of Blue Pool. With the seasonal increase of visitors there are going to be people who cliffs dive into the pool as well. “It is so sad that we lose people every year to this river. I just don’t think they realize how dangerous it is,” says Darla Reinhart, a store clerk at nearby Harbick’s Country Store.
The once overflowing waterfalls above the cliff have retreated with the rain as well and the current of the river has returned to flowing only from beneath, creating the illusion that this pool is separate from any river. But it a river, and like life, rivers continue to constantly flow forward. Tammolitch Falls may seem like a place of peaceful paradise to someone not aware of Rovello’s tragic accident, but for others it evokes a haunting sense of sadness.