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Annual tree climbing competition comes to Cantigny

Sarah Minor —
Brian Sprinkle waits for the next competitor in the aerial rescue climb competition on Saturday, May 11.
Sarah Minor — Brian Sprinkle waits for the next competitor in the aerial rescue climb competition on Saturday, May 11.

WHEATON – "Bob, Bob, you all right up there?"

The arborist calls up to his injured coworker in the tree. From the looks of it, Bob has hurt his arm and hip.

The arborist begins to climb up his ropes with a steady movement of arms and legs.

"Almost there, buddy."

He reaches his coworker, and after knotting his ropes, he glides safely to the ground with Bob beside him.

This aerial rescue scenario was one of five completed by arborists competing in the Illinois Arborist Association's Tree Climbing Championship last Saturday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Bob may have been a dummy playing the role of an injured coworker, but Todd Kramer of Kramer Tree Specialists in West Chicago was the rescuing hero. Kramer, who has competed in about 32 Illinois, North American and international competitions, won his 10th Illinois chapter title on Saturday.

The competition featured 17 professional arborists from all across the state who perform tree maintenance as part of their profession. Besides the aerial rescue, the other four scenarios included the secured footlock, belayed speed climb, throwline and work climb events.

After completing the five scenarios of the regular competition, the top three arborists competed in a master's challenge. Competitors don't know what the challenge will involve until they reach it, said April Toney, executive director of the Illinois Arborist Association.

The arborists are judged at each scenario by experts in the field. Mark Younger, the city of Evanston's municipal arborist, judged the belayed speed climb event, in which competitors climb about 50-60 feet up a tree as quickly as they can without breaking any branches. Climbers follow a course marked with ribbons, Younger said.

Of the five regular scenarios, Kramer said the aerial rescue is one of his favorites because he's able to use a lot of creativity with it. It's also an important scenario because it's realistic that workers can get hurt on the job, he said.

Both Toney and Kramer said the competition serves as an important learning tool for arborists.

"Everyone has their own technique, gear, way they do things and they learn from each other," Toney said.

Over the years, Kramer said he's picked up various skills, and he's enjoyed getting to network with arborists from all over the world.

"Between the international and the chapter level, I can't tell you how much I've learned," he said.

The chapter level championship is held once a year at locations throughout Illinois, Toney said. In the past, it's been held at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle and Grant Park in Chicago, and this year wasn't the first time arborists competed at Cantigny.

“I think visitors to the park enjoy watching events like this," said Jeff Reiter, Cantigny's communications manager. "It’s not the kind of thing you see every day, so it’s good for Cantigny and sets us apart.”

Following Saturday's competition, Kramer will represent the Illinois chapter at the International Tree Climbing Championship in August in Toronto.

And even though Kramer has proven successful competing against other tree climbers, sometimes it's nice just to enjoy the view.

"Once you get up there, you get to see the neighborhoods," said Kramer, whose family business provides services throughout the Chicago area. "On a really clear day, sometimes you can see downtown."

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