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Not just for kids: a field trip to MOBOT's tree canopy climb

Most of us haven’t scaled a tree since we were kids.

But it’s not too late!

On several weekends this fall the Missouri Botanical Garden is giving both adults and kids the chance, with the help of a professional.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman got a birds-eye view of the Garden’s tree canopy climb.

Up in the trees

On a beautiful day it’s hard to beat the Missouri Botanical Garden, where you can go for a stroll along paths shaded by big, lovely trees.

But going up in the trees? That’s usually left to the squirrels.

Sheila Voss, the Garden’s Vice President of Education, doesn’t necessarily agree.

“Being up in a tree canopy 30 to 50 feet up in the air is definitely a unique experience and one that I’d highly recommend,” Voss said.

She got the Tree Canopy Climb off the ground at the Garden and Shaw Nature Reserve last year in celebration of the U.N.’s Year of the Forests.

“We wanted to give people that opportunity to have a unique different physical perspective on trees, but also a deeper understanding and honestly a different emotional connection with trees,” she said.

Voss says the Garden can teach why trees are important; from cleaning the air to helping manage storm water; but people are more inclined to care, Voss says, after going up in one.

That’s what I’m about to do.

Credit (Julie Bierach/St. Louis Public Radio)
St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman literally learns the ropes from guide Jon Richard.

My guide Jon Richard hooks my harness, called a saddle, to the ropes he’s swung over a big Sawtooth Oak tree.

The rope looks like it goes on and on as I look up, but Jon is used to dealing with novice climbers’ nerves.

He owns Vertical Voyages and takes beginners both rock and tree climbing.

Jon shows me how to put my foot through a rope loop and step down then quickly push a knot above my head up.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t take that much strength, and any time I want, I can sit back in my saddle and take it all in.

I swing gently about 10 feet above the ground and listen as the birds chirp and children play in the distance.

After a few moments I continue slowly up the rope and begin to notice the tree itself, including green acorns among the leaves.

And I hear creaking.

Credit (Julie Bierach/St. Louis Public Radio)
Guide Jon Richard holds a cambium loop. Ropes go through the loop than then fits over a branch, protecting it from any rubbing.

Jon explains that comes from my ropes rubbing against a leather loop that protects the branches. It keeps the ropes from damaging the tree’s cambium layer that carries nutrients.

Finally, I’m 30 feet above the ground when I agree to throw Jon one of my ropes so that he can give me a swing.

I shriek, but it’s exhilarating and brings childhood rushing back.

Too soon it’s time to come down from the treetop. I push down on the hitch knot and glide down.

“Keep coming down until almost seated and then stand up,” Jon says. “And you’re back on the ground. All right! High five!”

I went up just 35 feet, but the tree canopy climb at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Shaw Nature Reserve will allow climbers to go up to 50 feet.

The Garden’s Sheila Voss says climbers as young eight will be able to walk on tree limbs and sit in a tree hammock far above the ground.

“We love these trees; the Garden loves these trees and this experience is us basically inviting the public to get to know and love them in a different way,” Voss said.

And maybe they’ll come down out of the canopy with a little more appreciation.


The canopy climbs cost $43 per child or adult. They will be held on Sundays, Sept. 16, Sept. 30, Oct. 14 and Oct. 28 at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Shaw Nature Reserve.

Advanced registration is required and the sessions are limited to 12 people. For more information go to www.mobot.org/classes or call 314-577-5140.

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.