Name: Captain Tony
Species: bur oak
Height: 50 ft
Trunk Diameter: 3ft 2in
Spread of Branches (tip-to-tip): 55 ft
Approximate Age: 100-150 yrs
It seems every time I visit this tree I am treated to a wonderful encounter.
Approaching this tree in the morning provides the opportunity to watch the foggy mist rolling across the lake. The soft wisps have a calming effect on my mood. I often take pause during my morning climb preparation to appreciate the beauty and song of a pair of loons on the water.
As the sun begins to rise, I am energized by the rays of light shining through the mist and their wonderful reflections in the branches above.
One particular summer day, I climbed into this wonderful oak to take time for myself. I went up there to enjoy the view across the water and lay back on a branch shaded from the leaves above.
Being a rather warm and humid day, a song came into mind; “I went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat.” You may recognize the lyric from a Jimmy Buffett song where he sings of the man and saloon in Key West. For a brief moment, I was back in the Keys heading in for a break from the sun and heat.
It was at that moment this tree became known to me as, Captain Tony. Trees are living beings and I am often moved to formally recognize certain individuals by name. The name is not so much a tribute to a person or place; but, to the emotion, feelings and reflections I experience when in the presence of this tree.
With over 50 species of oak in North America, bur oaks are known for their impressive branch spread and trunk diameter. Living in Wisconsin provides us the opportunity to appreciate large bur oaks on a regular basis.
The largest bur oaks have branches reaching 100 feet across and trunks close to 9 feet wide! Wisconsin’s largest known bur oak has a trunk over 7 feet in diameter and is located in Waukesha County.
Walking around Fox Brook Park you are able to appreciate a number of large and majestic bur oaks. Each has their own presence about them and worthy of taking time out of my day to stop and appreciate.
Captain Tony is a little more modest in size yet extra special as I have spent time in his branches. Those of you who have climbed Captain Tony may know what I am talking about as you have your own memories and connection to the tree.
This tree touches people in different ways, so I am excited to offer a variety of experiences this year. Should you like us to introduce you, we will visit the tree on numerous occasions in the year ahead: Adult Tree-Time, Rec Climbs, Open Climbs, Girl Scout Adventure Climbs.
Our climbing club will also have the opportunity to explore the canopy and enjoy hammocking!
You don’t need to dig into research studies to know that teams that work well together tend to achieve great results. You can probably spot a high-performing team without much thought.
Think about how everything comes together for your favorite sports team during a successful scoring drive. While ‘Hamilton’ might be a great musical, your enjoyment of the live performance is dependent upon the actors, musicians, sound and lighting crews being in-sync the night of your performance.
In either case there are a number of team members involved. No matter how large the group is, it can produce good results when each member is focused and successfully completes their own task.
Amazing results, however, can be achieved when members work together by performing their respective role while being supportive and encouraging of fellow teammates.
This idea is at the heart of why team-builders and bonding events are used to improve a team’s overall performance.
Companies and organizations spend a lot of time, money and energy looking for ways to improve morale and develop their employees and teams to help them achieve amazing results. Team-building exercises and social events are two ways they try to accomplish this.
While there is plenty of research showing the value and benefits of these types of activities, in reality they are held in low regard by the majority of employees.
Think of your own feelings when you hear you’ll be participating in a team-building exercise.
When you’ve been in the position of planning such an event for your employees, colleagues, or group, did you sense a challenge of getting them motivated to participate?
On one hand, you understand that team building exercises can be used to energize the group and improve morale and productivity. On the other hand, maybe your efforts have failed to achieve these goals, or worse, lead to anxiety and resentment.
Unfortunately, many of the typical team-builders are structured or executed in a way that simply replicate the same patterns and struggles that already occur within the group.
Give Them Something To Talk About
To be successful today, you need to consider new ways to achieve the results you are looking for. There isn’t a single solution, but there are alternative methods to motivate and improve your team’s performance.
Out of the ordinary experiences are a great way to break through some of the negative impressions people may have.
Some of the more successful exercises I have come across have two things in common: they provide a “wow” factor and were not expressly designed as a traditional team-builder.
Being somewhat obscure to the general public, recreational tree climbing is an activity that provides a “wow” factor for most people.
Regardless of a person’s initial response being either one of excitement or one of apprehension, their curiosity is certainly piqued. Most fears and apprehension can be addressed through communication prior to activities like tree climbing.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to assume that requiring each person to climb is necessary to achieve results. Spectators enjoy the activity and participate in the overall experience without ever leaving the ground. Watching people climb is exciting in itself. That boost in energy feeds the underlying desire to see people reach their goals and expresses itself through spectators and their use of words of encouragement towards participants.
In addition, a climber’s ability to participate and reach their goal is not dependent upon the other climbers. This may sound contrary to the goal of traditional team building exercises that demonstrate how a team cannot achieve its goal without each person fulfilling an individual task. There are plenty of exercises out there to get that point across, including the daily work experience.
As an alternative experience, the end result will demonstrate that while one may be focused on their individual task, their success is profoundly impacted by the support and encouragement they receive from others. In addition, they feel empowered to provide the same to the other participants.
Our regular climbing events allow individuals to come to us to climb. These participants typically do not know the other climbers in the group. What consistently occurs with each group of participants is that they begin to relate to each other. In a short amount of time, complete strangers are in conversation together. Everyone is outside of their comfort zone dealing with their own challenges, which helps them relate to each other. This tends to manifest as a desire to help others achieve their goals.
Teams that achieve amazing results are those that have members who are not only capable of performing their required task, but arguably more important, able to be supportive and encouraging of the others. Experiences like recreational tree climbing fosters this type of interaction amongst participants organically.
Shoot for the Treetops
I agree with Andre Lavoie, “creating bonding experiences employees actually like fosters a workplace culture of friendship, which directly improves morale and productivity.”
These bonding experiences can come from a variety of unique and innovative activities. Recreational tree climbing is one option, but I am sure you can think of others that might achieve your objectives and goals.
It can be challenging to avoid falling into the trap of pulling something out-of-the box that is easy to set up. Before you take the easy road, ask yourself how it will be received by your team and will it ultimately provide the result you desire?
Need help aiming higher? Look into some unusual team-builders here.
Of the groups who come to us for the recreational tree climbing experience, some will schedule an event as a stand-alone activity for a particular team or group.
Others choose to offer it in conjunction with a company picnic or event. This can spice up a routine gathering while helping to avoid the anxiety some members might feel if it sounds too extreme for them. Even if you are the one who is apprehensive with such an activity and prefer to remain firmly on the ground, you may find yourself inspired to try it out after you see and understand the safety and control each climber has.
Regardless of whether climbers have come to us for the therapeutic and developmental benefits or for recreational pleasure, each climber experiences a feeling of connection to the other individuals in the group they are climbing with.
How do you think your group will feel and interact the next time they convene after sharing an experience like this?
Start planning a tree-climbing experience for your group here.
Some people take on exciting and risky endeavors such as wingsuit flying, base jumping, and free-climbing rock faces. You might have even tried a few yourself. Maybe bungee jumping or skydiving?
Extreme sports tend to involve activities that take on higher associated risks, thereby increasing the level of danger for the participant. Often times the risks are increased through elevated levels of speed, height or mental and physical exertion.
Participating in these types of activities produces a rush of the epinephrine in the body, the hormone associated with the “adrenaline rush.”
The “adrenaline rush” is experienced as a reward by some people and thus creates a drive to participate in extreme activities.
What might be extreme to you may differ greatly from the next person, therefore we each experience adrenaline rushes at different levels of participation in the same activity.
You can experience the rush simply by stepping outside your comfort zone.
One Step Over the Line
On occasion I am able to get out with a friend to climb rock. Since all of our climbing is done on rope, we hike to the top of our chosen rock face in order to set up the top-rope system. Once he has all the gear in place, we take the shortest route down…stepping off the edge of the cliff.
Stepping off the side of a cliff is not part of my daily routine; therefore, I find it quite exciting. It tests my nerve every time! Once over the edge and hanging on rope, rappelling 50 feet down the side of the cliff is relaxing comparatively.
Then there are people like Alex Honnold, who free-climbed El Cap. No harness, no rope.
To put it into perspective, the wall routes at Adventure Rock reach just over 40 feet and our highest ropes in our climbing trees tend to be between 40-55 feet high. The El Cap route Alex climbed was 3,000 feet.
Chills ran down my spine as I watched his journey in the 2018 documentary, Free Solo. I feel an adrenaline rush just thinking about it!
As I stand at the base of a cliff or wall and look up, I recheck my safety system. Did we inspect all of the equipment? Is the fall protection system installed properly? Do I trust my belayer?
Until my confidence level increases during an ascent, I feel adrenaline release in my blood stream. It is invigorating.
Even if we might have grand visions of accomplishing feats like Honnold or simply jumping out of a plane to try skydiving, we know we lack the ability and usually the equipment to do so.
Or maybe we’re just a bit more cautious.
Do Something Out Of The Ordinary
Ziplining and High-ropes courses tend to elicit an invigorating adrenaline rush in many people. We are faced with the fear of falling. If you already have a fear of heights, the effect can be more intense.
While tree climbing may fall in the same arena of adventure activities like these, it tends to elicit different responses. Since climbers are in control during their time above the ground, you tend to experience less of an adrenaline rush, yet still feel energized and invigorated.
This feeling is likely caused by the release of hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are some of the “happy hormones” as they provide a boost of feel good energy, without the stress-related impact of the adrenaline rush.
For most people, just getting ourselves off the ground is stepping outside of our comfort zone. This where the thrill of the climb begins. Those energizing hormones begin to release. I find it particularly enjoyable when these hormones are at greater levels than adrenaline.
As you climb higher, you will eventually encounter the height that registers for yourself as one where you are no longer near the ground. Meaning, you are acutely aware you have stepped outside your comfort zone. For many people this height is reached about 10-15 feet, and maybe 30 feet for others.
With tree climbing, you are in control of your next decision. Once you reach that first ceiling, what is your next move? Climb higher, hang out and enjoy the comfort of hanging in your saddle, head down?
Once acclimated to the distance above ground, most people opt to climb higher. Decide to climb higher, you’ll feel another flush of those energizing hormones.
This process repeats during your climb. When you reach the lowest branches of the tree’s crown. Getting onto or off of a branch, questioning whether you will still be held aloft during each transition. When you reach the top of your rope. Each time receiving a flush of energy.
What Level of Extreme Are You Looking For?
Recreational tree climbers live around the world and come from all walks of life. Many head out in search of the tallest trees in order to reach heights of 200-350’. Some are looking for trees and vistas in remote locations, taking them into jungles and rainforests shared by pit vipers, stinging insects and other critters that can cause harm when encountered.
Climbing arborists work in the trees daily. Their work requires precision skill to situate themselves into a proper working position to avoid straining muscles or being hit by the piece of wood being removed. Their work might involve operating a chainsaw with the chain rotating near 60mph as 1,400 cutting teeth pass by a specific point per second.
Can you picture yourself in either of those situations? Do they seem a little more extreme than climbing the tree in your backyard?
Maybe you have tried or have seen a tree climber limb-walking, where they walk out towards the end of a branch. In doing so, they are no longer hanging directly under their suspension point; therefore, now relying more and more on their ability to balance their weight on the branch. The awareness is very much present that if they slip, they will fall & possibly swing uncontrolled towards the trunk.
I mention all of this to put into perspective that many tree climbers experience and are often driven by situations that provide an adrenaline rush during the climb. The work is demanding, very rewarding, and ultimately provides the thrill that some of us spend our money on for recreation.
Do you think of yourself as someone who is not ready to throw caution to the wind and truly willing to risk severe injury or death?
It is fortunate, then, that you can search out experiences under more controlled circumstances where those consequences are not at stake, and push the limits of your comfort zone at your own pace.
All new climbers learn to ascend the rope using beginner techniques, which we teach at all of our events. With time, some people advance to faster and more efficient techniques that Curt demonstrates in this video. It’s the technique of climbing rope that gets you high up into a tree, no matter your level.
By Kevin Andrews
What matters most to you as the parent of a child between the ages of 5 and 10?
Research shows four items consistently rank among the top:
Would you believe there is a path to achieving all four of these?
Physical activity plays an important role in developing the brain and supporting essential mental functions. As an elementary teacher for the past 20 years I have witnessed the benefits that regular physical activity has provided to the vast majority of my students.
Physical activity helps develop students in a range of ways. Not only does it help their physical health, it also helps improve brain function and your child’s emotional wellbeing. Research shows that regular to moderate intensity exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with learning and memory.
Exercise also helps release growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the growth and survival of new brain cells as well as blood vessels in the area. Exercise leads to improved motor skills, better analytical and problem-solving skills, stronger attention skills and overall improved learning.
So how do we accomplish this in our schools now-a-days?
Engaging and Experiential
Most people would answer with the obvious PE and Recess. Educators of today are looking for new, engaging, and creative ways to meet those needs without the use of technology-based methods. One method my school has explored over the past few years is through tree climbing.
Companies such as Treetop Explorer are helping educators connect physical activity with a variety of learning opportunities. When children are physically engaged and “living” an experience, their retention rates show a dramatic increase.
Whether it be studying the biology of trees, using the peacefulness experienced in a vertical change of scenery for journaling or writing poetry, or studying the force of gravity on different objects, the connections between academics and physical activity are endless.
The best part………KIDS LOVE IT!
The #1 Field Trip!
In the four years since our school began implementing a tree climbing program with our third graders, the excitement from students and parents has grown exponentially. It is the #1 “field trip” 2nd graders are excited to experience in 3rd grade, and one of the top 3 memories our 5th graders have of their entire elementary experience.
Each climbing event is held during the school day, yet each year we have a growing number of parents taking time off of work to come watch their children soar into the trees. Not only has this experience become more and more popular with the parents in my school, but it’s now being implemented in all four of the elementary schools across our district.
The experience has been met with much enthusiasm from parents, students, and teachers alike. But beyond the enjoyment factor lies the connection between the academics, physical activity, mental health, and social experience that the tree climbing experience provides to each and every one of our students.
The tree climbing experience helps us provide students with an alternative learning experience that gets them out of their chairs and into the trees.
Kevin Andrews is an elementary teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been teaching since 2000 and has worked with kids between the ages of 5 and 10 as a Classroom Teacher, Content Specialist and Instructional Coach. He introduced the tree climbing experience to his 3rd grade team in 2015, and it has since grown to being implemented across the four elementary schools in his district, reaching more than 400 new students on a yearly basis.
Name: Georgia Oak-eeffe
Trunk Diameter: 34”
Spread of Branches: 65’
Approximate Age: 50-70 years
About the Tree
At one time, the world’s largest known pin oak was right here in Wisconsin.
It was growing on the campus of UW Stevens Point since 1894, but was removed in 2017 after being infected with the lethal oak wilt disease. During its 123 years of life, it had reached 92 feet in height with the trunk being over 4 feet wide.
Pin oak is somewhat unique in its tendency to exhibit a strong central trunk rather than the sprawling nature of other oaks. This form, paired with a relatively fast growth rate, leads them to attain impressive heights within their short lifespans compared to other oaks.
Our climbing tree in Sun Prairie is the only pin oak in our current line-up of climbing trees. This tree is surrounded by a handful of other impressive pin oaks and I encourage you to come out and meet them during one of our climbs.
The scientific name (Quercus palustris) comes from the Latin word for marsh, palus, indicative of the habitat where it is typically found in nature. The species tends to grow in lowland areas of the Midwest states, however, it can be grown across the continental U.S.
Having the ability to tolerate pollution and compacted soils, pin oak has been one of the most widely planted oaks in urban landscapes. Before you decide to plant this tree however, beware that the tree can face nutritional issues when growing in clay soils.
Starting my career in Missouri, I was fortunate to work with pin oaks that reached 100 feet in height. Since the species tends to hold on to its dead branches and twigs, I spent a lot of time in these magnificent trees.
Although you may take it for granted, bark can tell you a lot about a tree. Get up close and personal with a tree and let Curt show you how interesting bark can be. Plus, he shares some of the things we do as climbers to minimize the damage we cause.
By Emma Koeppel
Baltimore Orioles are a brilliant orange and black bird. They migrate from Central America to the northernmost parts of the United States every year and herald the beginning of spring in Wisconsin. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes their song as “pure, liquid, whistling tones.” They can often be found singing their liquid gold song from the uppermost treetops, pausing between melodies to search for a tasty insect snack.
For years I never paid much attention to orioles. This spring that changed. I started seeing and hearing them everywhere. On my morning hikes, in my backyard tree, flittering ahead of me as I walked around the neighborhood.
Also around this time, I had my first experience with tree climbing. I hadn’t intended to climb that day but stumbled upon the opportunity. Within minutes of lifting my feet off the ground, I knew I was never looking back to a tree-climbing-less life.
On my most recent climb, I was perched on a branch high in the tree a couple of hours before sunset. I had been climbing all day so I was sweaty and tired. Gnats were swarming around my face and I had a good-sized blister that was letting me know it was there. As I sat, I let the quiet sink in. I let my breathing slow and let my body feel supported by the tree branch underneath me. And there it was. A female oriole dancing through the treetops. In some ancient cultures, orioles symbolize a positive change or a ray of sunshine entering your life. Regardless of whether or not animals hold any symbolic power over our stories as humans, tree climbing has certainly been a welcome ray of sunshine in my life.
When I climb trees, I feel invigorated and full of energy. At the same time, it’s like traveling back in time to childhood when I spent hours perched in my favorite tree. Climbing into a tree as an adult re-awakened feelings of wonder and awe that I didn’t know had been missing. It allowed me to literally perceive the world from a new angle. This awakened a desire to perceive more of my life from new angles.
While the feelings that tree-climbing will evoke are different for everyone, I do think tree-climbing has some inherent benefits that can be powerful to anyone who climbs!
Tree climbing provides challenges.
The nature of tree-climbing is such that you can choose any challenge that suits you. Maybe you are scared of heights and your goal is to get 5 feet off the ground. That is a great goal! Maybe you hope to climb high enough to sit on the lowest branch. Maybe you want to scurry as high into the tree as possible and look out over the city below.
Tree climbing can meet you where you are comfortable, while at the same time inspiring you to push beyond your comfort zone. And trust me, when you do push beyond it, you’ll feel great!
A chance to slow down and notice.
To notice the moss growing on the limb next to you.
To notice how your body feels as it pushes you higher and higher into the tree.
To notice the texture of the bark.
To notice your thoughts slowing down.
As our days speed up, slowing down and noticing are two things that often get thrown to the wayside. We rush from one place to the next, checking tasks off of our to-do lists. Kids may find themselves in this busy pattern, too. Many of the kids I know will gladly fill their after-school time with soccer, dance, theater, basketball, baseball, piano lessons, violin lessons, and the list goes on. Of course, all of these activities are enriching in their own right, but it’s easy to become unbalanced. A balance of the fast rushing with slow noticing creates important space. Tree climbing may be a place where you can devote all of your attention to a single goal for an hour, thus treating yourself to a much-needed break from the rushing that we all experience sometimes.
Tree climbing provides connection.
On my first climb I felt connected to the tree, to the other climbers, and to the facilitators. In order to participate in the process of climbing the tree, I had to have a baseline level of respect and trust in the people and environment surrounding me.
Connection breeds trust, respect, and shared values and experiences. If we don’t feel a connection to something or someone, we are much less likely to show them care and respect. We all know the benefits of feeling connected to other people; that connection makes us feel understood, supported, and valued.
But what about the benefits of feeling connected to a tree? Those are a bit harder to grasp or put into words. On a fundamental level, trees keep us alive. They provide oxygen for us to breath. Along with oxygen, trees give us shelter, material, food, relaxation, water, and beauty. If we don’t interact with trees in our daily routines, it can be hard to develop a connection to them. Subsequently, trees and the environment we call home may not always receive the respect and care that they deserve from us. Spend an hour in the canopy of a tree and maybe you’ll walk away with a new sense of connection!
Thanks to Hartford Recreation Department and TNF Videos for creating a fantastic video about the experience of tree climbing! See it from beginning to end and hear what it’s like straight from the kids and their parents.
“It’s a really good experience; something they’ve never been able to do before.” - Jennifer Schroeder
“It’s scary, it’s fun, it’s a blast, it’s a workout.” - Aldon Kaye
You’ve heard the expression “Stop and smell the roses.” How about the leaves, blossoms, bugs and even fungus?! Join me in the tree to appreciate the little miracles that are right above your head.
As an I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Tree Care Specialist, and G.O.T.C. Recognized Senior Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.