I ptiched this story to the Ottawa Citizen where it was published in the Business Section on July 3, 1999 as “Arborists Branch Out.” It was picked up by the National Post and published in its Life Section as “The world from a fresh perspective.”
The world from a fresh perspective
Diversify, diversify, diversify is the mantra of the 90’s, whether it concerns your stock portfolio or your business. Or, as tree-care specialist Anne and Victor DaSilva discovered, branching out is the root of success.
The two young entrepreneurs from Cumberland, Ont. are the owners of Upper Canada Arborists, a successful three-year-old tree-care business that did booming business in the wake of the 1998 ice storm. Now, they have started a new company, Tree Climbing Adventures, Inc., and introduced a cutting-edge sport to eastern Ontario.
Recreational tree climbing is the ideal offshoot from the arborist trade. It takes advantage of the skills and knowledge Victor DaSilva has gained through 14 years in the field. And, since trees can be climbed in any weather, it would also allow the DaSilvas to expand their mostly seasonal business year around.
It was while Victor was removing a particularly awkward ice-damaged tree for client Lana Burpee, a marketing consultant, that the idea blossomed and grew. He told her about an intriguing activity he had learned of through colleagues in the tree-care industry; recreational tree climbing.
Burpee saw the potential of the sport immediately. “I saw features in recreational tree climbing you only wish for in most products. It is huge fun; it is appealing across a wide range of age groups; the activity is not bound by a site, it’s very portable and it can be very simple or very involved depending on what the client wants,” she says.
Recreational tree climbing is just starting to take off as a sport in North America. A quick check of the Internet reveals a couple of webpages designed by hard-core “tree surfers” who live much like the surfers of the sixties.
However, instead of travelling the world in search of the perfect wave, tree surfers haunt the wilds looking for stands of tall trees with broad, leafy canopies. There are harrowing stories “bark bites” suffered while slamming into tree trunks and branches, but also tales of the stunning bird’s eye views enjoyed while swaying from the topmost branches of some of the highest trees on the continent. Now the DaSilvas’ new company offers people the opportunity to experience the thrill without the dangers.
Adults and children learn quickly and easily how to get their feet off the ground. After buckling the arborist “saddle” around hips and thighs, strapping on the helmet and clipping their caribiners on to the line hanging from the tree, the climber is ready to go.
Climbers use a self-belay technique by sliding knots known as a Blake hitch and a Prusik knot up a climbing line. When the knots are weighted they do not slide; when unweighted, they can slip up and down the rope.
The technique and equipment are similar to those used by professional arborists. “Climbing is climbing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s recreational or not,” says Victor DaSilva.
To ascend, the climber sits back in the saddle; secures the Prusik cord around one foot and slides it up the climbing line as far as possible. The climber then stands straight up which holds the Prusik knot in place and creates slack, and pushes the chest-high Blake Hitch up the climbing line. By repeating the process, the climber will gradually ascend the tree. Once up the tree, climbers can limb walk, hang upside down or just enjoy the view. The DaSilvas will also offer tree-surfing (travelling from tree to tree) and treetop camping to experienced participants.
“I had a little difficulty co-ordinating it at first, but after two minutes I was just flying. I went right up to the top of the tree,” says Sarah Fabbro, 14. Sarah climbed a 16-metre-high maple in Ottawa’s Minto Park during a demonstration event put on by Tree Climbing Adventures a few weeks ago.
City of Nepean recreation supervisor Mary Lyn MacKay climbed with a group during the Tree Climbing Adventures “coming out party” in late April. She estimates she reached the height of a three-storey house.
“The first time I did it, I struggled a little bit, but once I got the basics, I did fine. At first I felt a little nervous and thought ‘My Lord, I’m high.’ Once I got over the barrier of fear I felt so much better. I stayed in the tree for two hours,” says MacKay, who eventually swung upside down from the ropes and calls the experience “a mini-risk without being unsafe.”
The April adventure earned the DaSilvas a summer-long contract with the Nepean Parks and Recreation Department.
Then, in a good example of doubling your publicity efforts, the DaSilvas chose the tall maples in Ottawa’s Minto Park as a filming location while being interviewed on a local television show.
The Minto Park event impressed Brian Smith, Ottawa’s city arborist, who gave Tree Climbing Adventures permission to use the trees. Mr. Smith has 25 years’ experience in the trade, and says the methods used by the DaSilvas do not harm the trees.
“I find the more we make young people aware of trees and what they do for us, the less vandalism there is. Anytime [the DaSilvas] require a tree for climbing and I can find a suitable one, I’m happy to help out,” he says.
Next, the DaSilvas want to seek out more permanent site partners, corporate clients and als, since the equipment is portable, “take the activity to fairs, special events and lots of public locations,” says Anne DaSilva.
There’s even an attraction for those who don’t feel like strapping on a saddle.
“Tree climbing is so visual — it’s a thrill to watch even if you don’t go up yourself,” says Ms. Burpee.
Tree Climbing Adventures, Inc. can be reached by phone at (613) 833-0240 or by fax at (613) 833-0865.