Go out on a limb: Climb a tree in the Southeast

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Go out on a limb: Climb a tree in the Southeast

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Brant Sanderlin
KeDarius Weaver hangs out for a few minutes as he takes a break from climbing a tree. Members of Tree Climbers International taught tree climbing skills to middle school students May 24, 2010. Using long ropes and series of knots students are able to propel themselves up a tree for an unique view of nature. Brant Sanderlin / bsanderlin@ajc.com

Recreational tree climbing is booming in the South – and no wonder. Its origins are generally recognized to have begun in 1983 when Peter Jenkins, a rock climber who became a tree surgeon, established Tree Climbers International and opened the world's first tree climbing school in – wait for it – Atlanta. Peter and TCI went on to establish safety and training protocols that have become the standards for recreational tree climbers all over the nation.

"The biggest reason it seems to prosper in the South is that this is pretty much where recreational tree climbing began – in Atlanta, with Peter Jenkins and Tree Climbers International," claims Joe Maher, himself an early recreational tree climber who established the Tree Climber's Coalition and is now a primary instructor at Tree Trek Exploration in Dawsonville, Ga. "And I think one of the reasons it's picked up like it has is that we do have forests down here with a lot of good climbing trees."

Among Maher's favorites – white oaks, red oaks, pines in deep forests and cypress trees in the swampy Southern part of the state.

"The South is a wonderful place for recreational tree climbing," agrees Jody Rice, special operations coordinator with Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. "First of all, our weather allows us pretty much to climb recreationally all year long, regardless of the season. Plus, the variety of tree species and the different eco-systems – we have a variety of habitat to experience."

Rice coordinates beginner's climbs, night climbs, overnight climbs and more through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, Ga., and at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Ga.

The original organization dedicated to recreational tree climbing and also the nation's first school for recreational tree climbers is still going strong in Atlanta. TCI arranges its only public instruction, the introductory climbs, through Hank Blaustein, the Tree for All instructor. TCI's private recreational tree climbing programs include a two-day "Basic Tree Climbing Course," a two-day "Beyond the Basics" class, a Treetop Rescue Program, and other possible arrangements. TCI is the one place you can learn from the guy who started it all – Peter "Treeman" Jenkins. And the organization he founded is a fount of information about anything and everything to do with recreational tree climbing. Also, TCI students from out of town may stay in the TCI Training Center and Guest House during their training for a fee, which has bed linens and a fully equipped kitchen.

Tree Climbers International, 1290 Merry Lane, N.E., Atlanta. 404-377-3150. treeclimbing.com/,

Florida has a great tree climbing operation in Gainesville, only about five hours by car from the ATL. Canopy Climbers offers occasional "Canopy Climbs," fun two-hour tree-climbing outings for groups of four or more, as well as a two-day Basic Tree Climbing Course and additional tree climbing activities, workshops and retreats. CC's prime mover is Danny Lyons, a TCI-trained instructor who is an expert in advanced climbing techniques. His mission, as stated on the Canopy Climbers website, is "to help people connect with trees, forests, family, friends and themselves."

Canopy Climbers, Gainesville, Fla. 352-284-7777. www.CanopyClimbers.com

Situated on the west side of Lake Lanier in North Georgia, the heavily wooded grounds where Tree Trek Exploration climbing classes and twice-monthly public climbs take place are just right for learning the ropes. Kids 14 and older and adults may sign up April through October for Basic Tree Climbing Class and Beyond the Basics Tree Climbing Class and other advanced options, including a unique 36-hour-long rain forest/cloud forest climbing adventure. Wintertime tree trekking is available through the operation at a site near the banks of Florida's Saint Mary's River, near Jacksonville. The three Tree Trek instructors collectively have about a half-century of tree climbing experience and are all recognized as Master Instructors by the Global Organization of Tree Climbers.

Tree Trek Exploration, Oak Grove Rd., Dawsonville, Ga. 678-633-2328 treetrek.net/

Instructor Bob Wray at Blue Ridge Tree Climbing has developed over years a unique approach to tree climbing and to teaching the skill. He believes in using the least amount of hardware possible, making superb use of rope knots that provide safety, versatility and as natural a climb as possible. He offers half-day climbing experiences and two-and-a-half day basics classes, as well as more advanced options that can be personalized to meet the specific needs of individual students. All this, in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain terrain of the Old Dominion state, only a bit over five hours by car from Atlanta.

Blue Ridge Tree Climbing, 182180 Blue Ridge Parkway, Meadows of Dan, Va. 704-796-3870. www.blueridgetreeclimbing.com

Up in the foothills of North Georgia's mountains, veteran tree climber Genevieve Summers holds court in the treetops. Summers is focused these days mostly on her basic tree climbing course, arranged by appointment only, which is designed to help people develop the skills necessary to climb on their own. But she also offers great treetop camping weekends using canvas hammocks stretched out and tied up amongst the branches.

Dancing with Trees, 1629 Wynn Lake Rd., Alto, Ga. 706-778-8847. www.dancingwithtrees.com/

If you're an Atlanta resident, it's hard to beat Tree for All for sheer convenience. Instructor Hank Blaustein conducts introductory climbs, intermediate guided climbs and a Basic Tree Climbing Course in Roswell's Leita Thompson Park, Alpharetta's Wills Park and Brookhaven's Blackburn Park. Blaustein the beginning climb classes for Tree Climbers International and runs a very kid-friendly operation. Most of the Tree for All public climbs are conducted March through November.

Tree for All, 1355 Woodstock Rd., Roswell; 11925 Wills Rd., Alpharetta; 3501 Ashford-Dunwoody Rd., Atlanta. 404-229-9224. www.funintrees.com/

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