At-Height Experiences to Engage, Inspire, and Recruit
Lydia Voth, Alissa Cotton, Chad Giblin, Laura Nelson, and Monica Randazzo
Trees are an extremely valuable resource, but who is going to take care of them in the future? A deep appreciation for and enjoyment of trees cultivates a desire and sense of duty to protect them. Many children love to climb trees, but few give them a second thought when it becomes time to decide what to be when they grow up. The Youth Engagement in Arboriculture program (YEA) helps secure the prospects of urban forests as it seeks to inspire young people to learn more about trees and even pursue careers caring for them. YEA provides unique opportunities for kids to learn by doing in a setting not commonly offered elsewhere, while striving to diversify the field by intentionally serving underrepresented groups and communities of color.
The Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota implemented YEA in 2016 to educate youth anywhere from elementary school to high school about arboriculture and urban forestry. Funding is provided by grants from the Minnesota Turf & Grounds Foundation, the Minnesota Society of Arboriculture, the USDA Forest Service, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In 2018, YEA programs received volunteer support from local tree care professionals, hosting arborists from City of Saint Paul, Four Seasons Tree Care, Jubert Tree Care, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, Northeast Tree, Rainbow Tree Care, SavATree, and Vineland Tree Care.
A major highlight of YEA is tree climbing field trips and camps. Both on the ground and high in the treetops, youth are engaged in thrilling experiences that improve their knowledge and their physical abilities. Each workshop provides opportunities for kids to climb trees like professional arborists. While undertaking fun and rewarding challenges, they learn about proper safety and communication, as well as about academic and career paths that involve trees and tree care. Games involving the rigging and suspension systems allow youth to work and learn in teams, and each person is given personal instruction from an expert during their chances to ascend trees. All events maintain full compliance with the Standard for Safety Requirements for Arboricultural Operations (ANSI Z133) and coordinate with ISA Certified Arborists® to ensure that safety and expertise are prioritized. YEA shines through its accessibility; there is no basic degree of skill or fitness necessary to participate in any activity. Kids of all levels have equal opportunities to have fun and learn. A variety of techniques are taught, which also gives participants a chance to discover their personal strengths. In addition to climbing events, YEA has hosted field trips on a myriad of topics, such as remote sensing, dendrology, nursery production systems, and tree propagation.
Having a variety of climbing systems available allowed each camper to explore the canopy within the scope of his or her own skill level. Some systems had a mechanical advantage, meaning that for every one unit of work applied to ascend the rope, two or more units were gained, essentially requiring less strength to climb. In the belayed speed climb, campers tapped into that instinctual climbing skill that seems inherent in childhood—just grappling up a tree by whatever means necessary—though with this system, there was the safety backup of having an adult belayer. Static rope technique (also called SRT or single line technique) has a number of mechanical devices that make ascending the rope safe and simple, as well as requiring less strength. As sort of a hybrid setup, the DMM Hitch Climber system involves the use of a hitch cord as well as optional mechanical devices. It was interesting to see the campers work through the different climbing stations, having difficulty with the challenge of a particular system but then excelling at another. The beaming satisfaction of a camper that succeeds in scaling a tree cannot be matched!
Another exciting facet of YEA is the Arbor Month Poster contest, carried out in conjunction with the City of Saint Paul. This contest aims to actively engage children in Arbor Day/Arbor Month participation. Every spring, third grade students in elementary schools throughout Saint Paul learn about Arbor Month and the importance of trees. They then create posters following an annual tree theme; in 2018, it was “My Favorite Tree.” The posters are judged by Saint Paul’s Tree Advisory Panel (TAP), with the top three students receiving recognition at their schools. The first place student and poster are honored at a special Arbor Day ceremony at the winning school, where a city official makes an Arbor Day Proclamation and everyone gets to help plant a tree. Through this, kids are given a chance to get outside of the classroom and make a lasting mark on their world. The 2018 ceremony was held at Capitol Hill Elementary School, where a Korean maple was planted in honor of the first place winner.
Over 1,200 youth between second and twelfth grade participated in YEA programming in 2018, with nearly 100 hours dedicated by University and municipal staff at these partnering schools:
- Capitol Hill Elementary School
- Como Park Elementary School
- Eastern Heights Elementary School
- Four Seasons A+ Elementary School
- Great River School
- Highland Park Elementary School
- Highwood Hills Elementary School
- Hmong College Preparatory Academy
- L’Etoile du Nord Elementary School
- Mississippi Creative Arts Elementary School
- Twin Cities German Immersion School
In addition to these schools, a group of Minnesota 4-Hers were given an introduction to urban forestry in a summer workshop. YEA also partnered with UMN Rec and Wellness Youth Program summer camps for two weeks of tree climbing camps for 10-12 year olds and 12-15 year olds. These camps were a special chance for youth to begin a week with the very basics of tree ascension and end with the ability to fly through the canopy with creative and challenging courses set up for them to follow.
Many young people have never heard of urban forestry or its plethora of benefits before coming to a YEA event, but through their participation they receive a new perspective of natural resources and exhilarating memories that they will bring into their futures.