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Tree Climbing's Not Just For Kids

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Chip Hildreth about 85' high in a tree at Freedom Park. Photo: Julie Rose

Charlotte is known for trees, so it's fitting that every year arborists gather here to show off their tree-scaling skills. The Charlotte Arborists Association's Annual Tree Climbing Competition is Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Freedom Park. WFAE's Julie Rose went for a preview. 

http://66.225.205.104/JR20120427.mp3

Chip Hildreth is sprawled on the limb of a Willow Oak 85 feet up. He's got a bushy beard, sunglasses and helmet. The highest he's ever been in a tree is 128 feet, so this 85 foot limb is nothing.

"No, this is cozy!" yells Hildreth. You can just hear him chuckling.

Down on the ground, Michael Noyes hoists supplies up to Hildreth on ropes, including a bell. Climbers will race to ring the bell by shimmying up a slender rope like inchworms.

It's a technique called "footlocking."

"It's a very daunting task to footlock up the tree like that," says Noyes, shaking his head. "Some of these guys will be doing 50 feet in 15, 16 seconds. They're awesome, it's amazing."

So how often did Noyes mother have to tell him to "Get down from that tree!"

"Quite often," he smirks. "When I was in high school we used to think about how can we do this and get paid for it? And not long after that we figured it out."

The job of an arborist is more than climbing, though. It's also pruning and fertilizing and diagnosing tree ailments. This weekend's competition at Freedom Park shows off the crowd-pleasing part. A group of kindergartners from Whitewater Academy on a field trip to Freedom Park were treated to an extra show as they marvelled over the man in the tree.

Kindergartners on a field trip to the park are agog at the sight of Chip, stretched like a squirrel on his branch, way up in the Willow Oak. All Saturday and Sunday, some 40 men and women will test their climbing speed, aerial rescue skills and precision throwing ropes over tree branches.

For aspiring young arborists watching down below, it just might be an awakening: If people get paid to climb trees, that oak in the backyard provides job training. Take that, Mom.