Tree climbing has its ups and downs

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

High up in one of Georgia’s live oaks, Lucas Drews of Woodland Tree Services in Rockford reaches out to ring a cowbell during February’s North American Tree Climbing Competition held in Savannah, Ga. photo by Carl Elmore

Tree climbing has its ups and downs, but for Lucas Drews, 29, of Rockford’s Woodland Tree Services it seems the sky’s the limit!

Representing the Arboriculture Society of Michigan (ASM) in the recently held North American Tree Climbing Competition (NATCC) in Savannah, Ga., Lucas placed first in a field of 70 entrants (63 male and, yes, seven female) during the preliminary round. Lucas’ elite competition, this day, was composed of top climbers from all over North America.

The following day, competing in the Masters Challenge championship round against the top five qualifiers, Lucas finished in second place by a scant three points.

First, a little background on how Lucas arrived at these lofty heights.

Mom and dad, Julie and Bill Drews, have owned and operated Woodland Tree Services, serving all of West Michigan, since 1982. Mom Julie, also the company’s office manager, said, “Lucas was climbing things [including trees] even before he could walk. It’s in his genes!”

Today, one of the top climbers for Woodland, Lucas is a certified arborist/climber with a degree in ornamental horticulture from Ferris State University, and is also certified in electrical hazards awareness, along with being a Michigan Department of Agriculture certified pesticide applicator.

“I feel blessed to work in an industry where I really enjoy what I do. I get to work in the out-of-doors with living organisms. There are new and exciting challenges each and every day,” said Lucas. “There’s a real dynamic in the relationships between tree climbers. We’re like a band of brothers, or family, if you will.”

Different species of trees present different challenges to climbers. At the recently completed NATCC championships, Lucas found himself scaling one of the iconic and indigenous trees of the south, the live oak.

“One of the things I enjoy about these competitions is that we get to compete in trees that we do not work with in our home environments,” said Lucas. “Many of these live oaks are over 100 years old and attain heights exceeding 100 feet with the diameter of the canopy exceeding 200 feet. It’s exciting but ever so challenging to deal with the dynamics of such a magnificent tree.”

Lucas Drews displays his heavily laden “tool belt” holding the tools of his trade. photo by Carl Elmore

The preliminary round on day one consists of competing in five specific challenges: Ariel Rescue, Belayed Speed Climb, Secured Footlock, Throwline, and Work Climb. In each category, the climbers go to several stations in the tree and complete tasks while being judged on time, safety and effectiveness. As they demonstrate their prowess of mobility along with ropes, rigging, tools and other equipment, their mission is not only to compete with each other, it’s also to learn from one another. As each competitor watches, they see a lot of innovations and techniques that they can employ in their own work back on the job. However, finalists during the second day’s masters competition are not allowed to watch each other in order to level the playing field.

During the Ariel Rescue segment, Lucas’ favorite, each contestant is presented with a scenario of a rescue dummy representing a seriously injured coworker in the canopy of the tree.

“To safely effect, in a minimum of time, the rescue of another person is an area we continually train in. To have the skills and knowledge to possibly save another person’s life is truly a blessing,” said Lucas.

The NATCC, that 2011 February weekend, was the largest ever held. As a result of Lucas’ winning scores and performance, he will represent ASM in Sydney, Australia this July at the International Tree Climbing Championships hosted by the International Society
of Arboriculture.

Reach for the sky, Lucas. All of West Michigan will be with you as you climb to new heights.

Rockford’s Woodland Tree Services is certified at national, state and local levels, serving all of West Michigan—no job is too big or too small, even just the proverbial cat in a tree. The family-owned company with seven employees (three certified arborists and three tree-care specialists) stands ready to serve you. Just give them a call at
(616) 538-4030.

 

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