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Just hangin’ around: Tree Climbing Colorado hopes to shape perspective through recreational tree climbing

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By Deborah Swearingen

Way up in a tree, among the leaves, branches and bark, many find a changed perspective.

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That’s part of the reason why Harv Teitelbaum of Tree Climbing Colorado climbs, and it’s that very sense of connectivity and perspective that he hopes to convey to those who climb with his company.

“It’s the perspective,” he said. “We know a tree from a couple feet up usually. You get up there, and it opens up this whole other country in the canopy.”

About 15 years ago, Teitelbaum began Tree Climbing Colorado. Alongside co-owner Nicole Olalla, he hosts public and private recreational tree climbs and offers a basic tree-climbing course, facilitator training and more. Climbers wear long pants and sturdy footwear, but Tree Climbing Colorado will provide all the necessary equipment, including ropes, harnesses and helmets.

Though Teitelbaum lives in Evergreen, Tree Climbing Colorado hosts climbs across the state and beyond. The organization used to frequent Littleton’s South Platte Park but has since stopped hosting climbs there due to a policy change. Teitelbaum is working on finding a new spot in the area to accommodate avid climbers in South Jeffco.

Before beginning Tree Climbing Colorado, which is an affiliate of the Global Organization of Tree Climbers, Teitelbaum worked in soil conservation and for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. But after Sept. 11, he decided it was time for a change.

“9/11 happened, and I wanted to do something that was a little more connecting, a little more involved with my educational background, which is in ecopsychology,” he said. “(Tree climbing) combined everything I love: the exercise, the being out in the trees in the forest, discovering new things.”

After training in basic climbing, he then became a facilitator and ultimately a master instructor.

Griëtte van der Heide first met Teitelbaum when taking a facilitator training course through Tree Climbing Colorado. Originally from the Netherlands, van der Heide moved to Colorado two years ago for graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Now, she volunteers at various Tree Climbing Colorado events, helping climbers get in and out of harnesses and maneuver their way up the trees.

She, too, mentioned the change in perspective that a tree can provide.

“You can’t believe how a tree looks different from up there. It changes everything,” she said. “You see possibilities that you can’t see from the ground.”

Van der Heide has worked with kids for much of her life, and said tree climbing can be a useful tool for learning confidence and empathy.

“It’s fun because they pick it up pretty easily, and they do more than you think they will do,” she said. “They always go up higher than you think they will go.”

This was evident Saturday in downtown Denver’s Washington Park during the International Society of Arboriculture’s annual tree climbing competition. Under the shade of elm trees, Tree Climbing Colorado hosted a free climb, inviting passersby an opportunity to lift off the ground and spend some quality time in the foliage.

Damien Merrifield of Gypsum is afraid of heights and wasn’t sure whether he wanted to give tree climbing a shot. But after harnessing in and beginning his ascent, the 11-year-old quickly realized he shouldn’t be scared.

“That was so fun,” he said with a grin as his feet finally touched the earth again.

So much fun that Damien climbed twice.

“They have no fear,” van der Heide said, adding that tree climbing can teach valuable lessons to children.

“They need to kind of understand what’s going on beyond their own little home and friends. There are other things in the world that are important — like trees,” she said. “I think it helps them understand a little bit better and have a little bit more respect.”

In addition to changing his outlook, climbing provides a thrill and freeing experience for Teitelbaum; it’s why he’s out in the trees at least once a week.

“You get that natural high,” he said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.