Climbing trees isn’t just for kids.
On April 1 and 2, the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment will sponsor the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture’s annual Tree Climbing Championship.
Arborists from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia will compete for top scores in climbing events that test their speed, agility, and safety.
“The skills competitions emulate work practices,” said Eric Wiseman, associate professor of urban forestry and arboriculture in the college. “All of these competing arborists are professionals, so they climb trees every day. These events are meant to highlight their good technique and safety practices.”
The two-day event, which will take place on the grounds of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at 205 Duck Pond Drive on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, is open to the public.
Events run April 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and April 2 from 9 a.m. to noon. Limited parking is available on site; no parking permit is required on the weekend.
Saturday’s featured competitions include a work climb, which tests the competitor’s ability to move about the tree using a climbing line and saddle/harness; an aerial rescue event, which is a timed event that tests the competitor’s ability to climb to and safely lower a climber who is unable to descend without assistance; and a belayed speed climb, which tests the competitor’s ability to climb a predetermined route from the ground to about 60 feet up a tree using a belayed climbing system for safety.
On Sunday, the top four to five climbers will compete in the Master’s Challenge, an event that tests their overall productivity and skill with a rope and saddle/harness in the tree. Competitors are judged and scored on their knowledge and their ability to demonstrate mastery of different climbing techniques, use of equipment, poise in the tree, and safe working practices.
The overall male and female winners will go on to represent the Mid-Atlantic Chapter in the International Society of Arboriculture’s International Tree Climbing Championship at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., in July.
The regional and international competitions, which have been held for 40 years, provide a unique opportunity for arborists to learn from one another and to educate the public about their work.
“A career as an arborist who climbs trees to care for them is just one of many professional opportunities in the field of urban forestry,” Wiseman said. “Numerous alumni from both the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have gone on to successful careers as arborists.”
“It requires a unique blend of knowledge, skill, and athleticism to succeed as a climbing arborist,” Wiseman continued. “Their work keeping trees healthy, safe, and attractive in our communities is really underappreciated.”
According to Nancy Herwig, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, Virginia Tech offers an ideal location to host the competition.
“There are some great trees on campus that work well for our events, and we have real ties to the campus,” she said. “A lot of Virginia Tech alums are members of the International Society of Arboriculture.”
Thirteen arborists helped prepare the trees, donating more than $10,000 worth of tree care work, according to Herwig, who thanked Arbor Artist, Bartlett Tree Experts, Dominion Power, Growing Earth Tree Care, Scooter’s Construction, and Virginia State University for providing staff.
In addition to watching the competitors, spectators can learn more about arboriculture by participating in several family-friendly activities on Saturday. A food truck will be on site and guided walks are planned through the Hahn Horticulture Garden and Stadium Woods.
Anyone attending the event who is more than 4 years old can try out tree climbing equipment and techniques in a designated recreational climb area between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday. Professionals will assist to ensure safety.
Spectators can also talk with representatives from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter and a number of vendors and exhibitors to learn more about tree care and the services they offer.
“We hope this event will show people that when they hire a company to come and do work on their property, they should hire someone who follows the best safety and management standards,” Herwig said. “A lot of those things are demonstrated in these events.”
Herwig also noted that many of the participants and judging staff would be available and willing to talk with students about a possible career in arboriculture.
“There are breaks in between events, and they’re all available to speak to students and people interested in the profession,” she said. “This is a great potential career for people who like working outdoors and helping the environment.
Wiseman also believes that students and community members who attend the weekend’s events won’t leave disappointed.
“Watching these climbers move through the trees is almost like watching a ballet,” he said. “Spectators will leave with a greater appreciation for the fact that arborists are highly skilled professionals. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge about trees and tree care. Climbing the trees is just how they get to work.”
In addition to the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, event sponsors include Arbor Tech Supply, Bartlett Tree Experts, Davey Tree, Georgetown Insurance, K & M Lawn and Garden Supply, SaveATree, SherrillTree, and TreeStuff.com. Exhibitors include Altec, Davey Tree, Georgetown Insurance, K & M Lawn and Garden Supply, and Vermeer Mid Atlantic.