By Helen Newling Lawson

Climbing trees seems to define childhood – a magical combination of freedom, solitude, adventure, and nature that pushes the limits of kids’ strength and daring. But when was the last time your kids had the chance to actually climb a tree?

We live in a mecca for recreational tree climbing, thanks to the pioneering influence of Peter Jenkins of Atlanta-based Tree Climbers International. With so many big trees perfect for climbing (many of them over 200 years old), he calls Georgia a “Yosemite of trees.” He’s been training tree climbing instructors since 1983, and many of his students lead programs in metro Atlanta.

These climbs operate on a “safety first” principle, and require the use of harnesses, helmets and ropes at all times. Patty Jenkins at Tree Climbers International tells us their techniques not only protect the tree from harm, but have never resulted in a serious injury in climbs led by their trained instructors.

Climbers as young as age 6 can follow the multi-step instructions. Climbing is very much a go-at-your-own-pace activity. The rope system allows you to stop to rest or just enjoy the sights and sounds from your new vantage point. Although some kids will focus on conquering the next branch, most find themselves slipping into “tree time,” where the journey is more important than the destination.

Some studies are showing a link between activities like tree climbing and an improvement in issues affecting kids, including ADHD, anxiety and obesity. Researchers also have linked tree climbing to a deeper commitment to conservation and a measurable sense of relaxation.

Taking Fun to New Heights?

Here’s where beginners can go out on a limb with recreational tree climbing:

Tree Climbers International
Two Introductory Climbing sessions (noon and 3 p.m.) held the first Sunday of the month, April through September. Pre-registration is required. At Blackburn Park, 3530 Ashford-Dunwoody Rd., Atlanta. $29 per climber; ages 5 and older.

Fun In Trees
“Tree for All” public introductory climbs held monthly in Roswell, Alpharetta and Brookhaven. See website for dates and locations, and to register. $28 per climber (higher for non-residents); ages 6 and older.; 404-229-9224.

 Panola Mountain State Park
Intro to Tree Climbing sessions at 1 and 3 p.m., third Saturday of every month. Preregistration required; groups should schedule a private session. 2620 Highway 155 SW, Stockbridge. $15 per climber; $5 per car park entry fee; ages 8 and older.; 770-389-7801.

Sawnee Mountain Preserve
Public tree climbing sessions available first and third Saturday of every month except June and July. Private group sessions can be scheduled Saturdays. Public climbs $15 per person; private climbs $30 per person ($180 minimum). Ages 8 and older.; 770-781-2217.

Tree Works Atlanta
If you have a large, healthy hardwood tree in your own yard, Tree Works Inc. will bring all the gear and lead climbs for groups of up to 15 kids and adults (they will provide a pre-party site visit to check for hazards).; 404-379-1700.

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