How a Fun-Filled Childhood Activity Gets Serious About Conservation

When you think of tree climbing, you probably think of brave kids scrambling freehand up a favorite oak. A growing group of professional and recreational tree climbers are taking it to a whole new level, and inspiring conservation efforts along the way, with the International Tree Climbing Championships (ITCC).

The sport of tree climbing grew out of practices used by professional arborists. When they had to reach higher branches for trimming or removal, they needed a way to safely ascend without damaging the tree. It used to be common for arborists to use tree spikes, which are sharp spikes fitted to their boots. They would jab the tree spikes into the trunk and essentially walk up the tree. However, modern arborists realized that this practice was damaging trees. Instead, they developed a system of rope climbing that allows arborists to climb while keeping themselves and the trees safe.


Wanting to show off their tree-climbing skills, the International Society of Arboriculture started the ITCC. This competition was first held in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1976, when it was called the “ISA Jamboree,” and has remained popular over the years. It is a combination of competition and conference, where arborists from all over gather to learn the latest techniques and science for effective climbing that keeps trees healthy.


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The professional tree climbing has also branched off to create recreational tree climbing. These climbers use the same techniques as the professionals do, but they’re just in it for fun. The sport is growing in popularity, with professional instructors and community programs available in many areas across the globe to help newcomers get involved, and to further the education of more experienced climbers. It provides great exercise and inspires a love of the great outdoors.


Both professional and recreational tree climbing inspire people to learn more about trees and how to protect them. You can join the cause and help replant deforested areas to help sustain our planet, and protect delicate species like the monarch butterfly that rely on trees for survival.

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