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Making friends in high places

Photos by Dan Bishop

May 2014

Sometime soon, you may be invited to spend the night in the arms of Apollo, the Gemini Twins or even Wild Bill. The trees at Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville all seem to have names, and Jessica Jens, the center’s executive director, would like visitors to get to know them, up close and personally.

So, beginning this June, Riveredge is offering tree climbing for children ages 7 and up and adults, including people who are physically challenged. Visitors who want to walk on the branches of Wild Bill, a 100-year-old burr oak, or see what the squirrels are up to near the top of the Gemini Twins, a pair of white oaks, can do it in the comfort of the same type of harness and rope and pulley system used by arborists.

Jens says she and five other Riveredge staff members have completed training and are certified in the tree-climbing program.

"Basically you’re sliding a knot up, and eventually you get high up off the ground. You’re able to use the trunk to get up, or also you can just hang in space," she says.

"When you’re up there, it’s an entirely different sensation. You can have a goofy time or just hang there. You can rig up hammocks. It can be very thrill-seeking and adventuresome or very meditative."

Plans for this summer include both open climbs and group climbs. Eventually, Jens says, she would like to schedule an overnight experience in the treetops.

Jens says Riveredge, a 383-acre natural sanctuary, exists to "inspire and educate people about the outdoors and how we can all be better stewards of the land. But before you care about something, you have to get to know it."

Spending some time up in the trees, at birds-eye level, can help people see the world around them from an entirely new perspective.

"Once they’re there, they can be connected with the natural world, learn to trust one another and push past their comfort zones," Jens says.

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This story ran in the April  2014 issue of: