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Author: jmaher
Date: November 25, 2007
The Issue Of Non-Unity In The Community

Recreational tree climbing exists on at least two levels, one being climbing at the personal and unstructured level, the other being climbing as it is conducted within the parameters of a structured program. Those who would like to see recreational tree climbing exist at a more formal level than at present need to consider both of these levels, and any others that might exist, before creating protocols that might favor one above the other or others.

Personal and unstructured recreational tree climbing would be that sort of climbing involving an individual acting independently, or in the company of like-minded climbers, with no agenda other than to enjoy the outdoors, have an adventure, or undertake some challenge. It would embrace the concept of common adventure when practiced with others. Any facilitation or instruction that occurred during such climbing would be offered in a spirit of sharing with no profit motive.

Recreational tree climbing, as practiced at the formal programmed level, is closely monitored by a facilitation staff and, in some cases, by instructors. Programmed climbing is an activity that will always involve at least one person other than the individual climber and is anything but unstructured and devoid of constraints. Because such climbing activity usually involves payment for participation, operators of the program, instructors, and facilitators must proceed within a structure that will satisfy liability concerns and demands from insurers.

Any attempt to move recreational tree climbing forward must take both of these and any other levels into consideration when formalizing the process. This is an extremely difficult endeavor, because of the different concerns that each group has. The personal and unstructured climbing advocates are, for the most part, individuals who don’t want their freedom compromised; program advocates, on the other hand, have an agenda that necessitates the curtailment of the freewheeling approach practiced by the other group. Any attempt to find common ground usually erupts into a figurative battle polarizing the two sides, as anyone who has monitored the issue of “Standards” can understand.

While there is the “gray area” between these two levels in which much climbing activity takes place, most of those who climb will fall into one camp or the other with only occasional forays across the playing field. Most of those operating at the instructor or facilitator level can sometimes be found climbing at the informal level, and the informal climbers can often be found helping out with climbs at the program level. Very rarely, however, will those in either group completely give up their philosophical leanings even when in the other’s camp.

One of the higher priorities of efforts to organize recreational tree climbers is that of gaining acceptance in the world of outdoor recreation and adventure. One group, however, is looking for acceptance in the outdoor recreation industry, while the other is looking for acceptance within the outdoor recreation community. There is a vast difference between these two goals: One reflects an interest in recreational tree climbing as a potential business opportunity, the other demonstrates an interest in the potential for recreation: One group is in it for the money, the other for the fun and adventure. Those who live in the “gray area” are in it for both the fun and the money, but these people are few and far between and very rarely take a stand either way.

If this does not make matters complicated enough, try adding in the idea that there are those on both sides who have no interest at all in seeking acceptance in the areas of outdoor recreation and outdoor adventure, and would rather retire the phrase “recreational tree climbing” in favor of “technical tree climbing”. There are still others who perceive the activity as an exercise in experiential education and are more interested in being accepted within the experiential community. There are professional arborists who would prefer that the activity exist as a subset of the professional arborist community. This last is a rather serious issue, because the outdoor recreation industry , the outdoor recreation community, and experiential educators are not interested in activities that are more work-oriented than recreational or educational in nature. Once again there are issues that can be difficult to resolve.

So what does all this mean? It means that individual, non-program climbers don’t trust the program climbers because they are afraid the more formal group would like to take away their freedom, control them, and even try to make a buck off them. It means the more formal program climbers aren’t happy with the “independents” because the “independents” are standing in the way of the formalizing process. Each group is in need of a bit of organizing, but neither group is quite willing to accept what the other wants and neither group totally “trusts” the other. The professional arborists have their agenda, too, wanting everyone to climb their way and also wanting to turn a profit, and this complicates the whole set of issues even further.

On the other side of the fence we have the outdoor recreation and adventure industry and community. The industry does not perceive recreational tree climbing as a market worthy of serious consideration and they are, so far, willing to allow the pro-arborist industry and our own in-house industry to handle most of our equipment needs. The outdoor recreation adventure community has not taken recreational tree climbers seriously, because they are seeing too much of the pro-arborist influence when they observe our activity: People who go about cutting limbs out of trees are not consistent with outdoor recreational adventurers as that community perceives itself. In other words, neither the outdoor recreation industry, nor the outdoor recreation community. are quite ready to accept recreational tree climbing, although both are watching to see where tree climbers go with things.

So how can all of this be resolved? Who knows? Everyone has their idea of a good solution but sides will not be taken here. The purpose of this little article has been to simply state the issue and attempt to clarify things. The recreational tree climbing community has a long way to go before this issue can be laid aside.

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