Professional tree-climbing competition set for Saturday at Smith College in Northampton

Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Three dozen professional arborists will shimmy up ropes and maneuver through canopies on the Smith College campus Saturday as they compete in speed and technique events at the 27th annual New England Tree Climbing Championship.

The competition, hosted by the New England Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, will take place on the Seelye Hall lawn from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. A tree climb for children, with a suggested donation of $10, runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Bear LeVangie, president of the organization’s New England chapter, said the event is intended to offer education about safe tree care and the profession of arboriculture.

“Our mission is to promote safety and education throughout New England, and this is a really great way to do that,” LeVangie said.

Climbers will compete in five preliminary events — aerial rescue, speed climb, throw line, footlock ascent, and work climb. The top three men and women will advance to the final “master’s challenge” in the afternoon.

LeVangie, a four-time New England climbing champion, said her favorite event is the aerial rescue, which requires climbers to rescue a dummy in a certain amount of time. LeVangie also likes the work climb, in which climbers navigate the canopy of the tree, hitting bells and performing skills.

“It’s a very fast event, but it’s also very graceful. It looks like a ballerina in a tree, just tied to a rope,” LeVangie said.

Brian Carpenter, who began competing in 2005, said he appreciates the community aspect of the competitions.

“It’s just a fun environment to be in,” Carpenter said. “It’s a neat competition in that it’s not an out-for-blood type of thing. It’s more friendly and more positive and energetic.”

“The camaraderie between these competitors is something I’ve never seen before,” said Heather Leff, an executive assistant with the chapter who has been involved in organizing the event. “Once you get to the master’s climb and everybody’s done with the preliminary rounds, and it’s just three men and three women left, everybody’s just cheering them on and giving them encouragement.”

LeVangie said she chose Smith College because the competition has never been held there, and because it is a women’s college. The New England Chapter is trying to get more women involved in the field of arboriculture, she said.

She also noted the beauty of the campus.

“The trees are absolutely stunning, and to showcase those trees I thought, what better way than to have a competition there,” LeVangie said.

Jay Girard, landscape manager at the Botanic Garden of Smith College, has judged the competition for several years. He said he was glad when LeVangie suggested Smith as this year’s location. They chose Seelye lawn because it has the most trees in one place, he said.

According to Girard, the organizers strive to make the competitions safe for the climbers — and for the trees.

“We take safety measures for the trees as well as the people,” he said.

Preliminary events Saturday run from 6:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the master’s challenge set for 1:30 to 5 p.m. Awards are announced between 5 and 6 p.m. The event is free for spectators.

The rain date is Sunday.


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