The Association for Experiential Education held its 2004 Southeast Regional Conference at the DaySpring Conference center in Ellenton, Florida, the weekend of March 19-21, and tree climbing was there for the participants to see and experience.
Abe Winters, of Tree Climbing USA, and I drove down from Atlanta on the 17th and spent most of the day on the 18th cleaning, prepping, and rigging a tree for climbing during the conference. We utilized a big live oak with large spreading leaders that sat right off the side of the driveway leading in to the conference center. The location maximized our visibility to those who would be arriving at the conference the following morning. We were able to rig twelve settings in the tree, most between thirty and fifty feet up, and were able to suspend two tree boats among the higher branches in the tree. In addition to rigging the tree for climbing we also set up a display with photos and literature inside the main convention registration building.
As the conference kicked off on Friday morning we were approached by a large number of people wanting to know when they could come out and climb. Most of the participants would be involved in going to meetings and discussions for most of the weekend but quite a few were ready to climb right away. That very afternoon we had our first climbers in the tree and everyone who did come out and climb wanted to know when they could do so again. The tree boats were occupied for the entire afternoon. We explained that we would be around all weekend and that they could come whenever they liked as long as Abe and I were present at the climb site.
For those of you who are not aware, experiential education embraces the concept that outdoor adventure can serve as a venue for teaching. Our presence at this conference is one of the ways that we have become involved in trying to bring validity, legitimacy, and acceptance to the idea of recreational/technical tree climbing. We had the opportunity to show off our activity and to speak with many prominent people within the area of experiential education who have the ability to influence our status within the outdoor adventure community. Of the more than one hundred participants who showed up for this conference there are none left who are in doubt as to what recreational/technical tree climbing is all about.
In addition to giving participants the opportunity to climb, I was able to attend one of the breakout sessions that addressed the concept of accreditation within AEE. The result of that meeting is that the accreditation committee of AEE is now aware of our presence and is ready to consider tree climbing as an accepted program. Our activity is on their agenda.
By the end of the day on Sunday, we had hosted almost sixty climbers, many of whom were repeats, and a lot of interested others who simply stood about and watched climbing in progress. My feeling is that we should be showing off our stuff at a lot more of these sorts of events.