Tree climbers descend on Warwick for championship

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Warwick trees have made headlines over the years – whether for being the victims of a macroburst that cut power to some sections of the city for day in Aug. 4, 2015, for their status as some of the largest and oldest in the state or for their ornamentation at the Warwick Public Library and lining West Shore Road in Conimicut.

This Saturday, Warwick trees will take on another role when the New England Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture holds its 30th annual Tree Climbing Championship at the Masonic Youth Center overlooking Greenwich Bay off Long Street.

The event, starting as early as 6:45 a.m. with different challenges throughout the day, is open to the public at no charge, and there will even be an opportunity for kids to do some tree climbing.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful park,” said Heather Leff, executive director of the chapter, when asked why Warwick was selected as the site for the competition.

Six trees in the vicinity of the pavilion will be used for the championship, with crews arriving on Friday to make arrangements at each of the “stations.” As Leff explained, the 37 climbers, five of whom are women, will be divided into five teams of seven to eight competitors. While the climbers are competing individually, the purpose of placing them in teams is directed at moving all of them through each element of the competition.

Leff said most of the contestants do tree climbing as part of their job, although with the growth of recreational climbing, there are also a number of rock climbers who have taken up tree climbing. She said most range in age from 18 to 40 year olds, although from time to time there are some “old geezers.”

Leff said camaraderie builds between the contestants, who encourage each other even though they are all looking to win the coveted title of New England champion and a chance to compete in the grand finale, known as the International Tree Climbing Championship, to be held this summer in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Leff describes tree climbing as akin to rock climbing with the use of ropes and specialized gear. Safety is foremost, she said, with the gear of each climber being inspected and approved before they are eligible to compete. Also, measures are taken to ensure spectators are not in areas where they might be hurt by descending climbers or falling branches.

Of the climbing categories, the Aerial Rescue where a climber has to climb up to a 240-pound dummy and then safely lower it to the ground as if it were an injured person is one of the most challenging events.

“It’s designed to mimic what could happen in the field,” Leff said.

Other categories within the competition include the belayed speed climb, work climb, ascent event, throwline and master’s challenge.

In order to successfully complete a category, such as the work climb, contestants will need to reach a ring a bell positioned high in the tree limbs. In the ascent event, climbers will demonstrate different methods of climbing, and in the throwline, climbers will be standing on terra firma. From the ground, they will hurl a rope with a weighted end over different limbs above them.

At each station, judges will be scoring contestants. Overall, Leff said the event depends on the work of 50 volunteers.

As for the involvement of children – not as competitors, but simply to get the feel of climbing or test their own skills – Leff said 10 high school students would be on hand to assist. Children who want to try climbing will be given instruction and outfitted with a harness. There’s no age restriction for kids, but Leff said weight and height are factors. The kids’ tree climb is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Times may vary depending on weather, but at this point preliminary events are slated to run from 6:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. The master’s challenge, which includes the finals, is from 2 to 5 p.m. The results and awards will be announced from 5 to 6 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, June 2.

The New England Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture offers opportunities for the professional development of the region’s certified arborists through educational workshops, training, public service and events. Through these professional activities, the chapter helps members to enhance their technical proficiencies and stay abreast of technical/scientific developments in the field of arboriculture. Additionally, chapter encourages members to engage with the general public and to share with them the science, art and research of arboriculture.

For more information, visit newenglandisa.org.

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