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Oakley launches tree-climbing business at Marymoor
Katie Oakley estimates she’s climbed about a couple hundred trees in her life. And now, the 24-year-old has created a business that teaches others to climb.
“I want to reconnect people with nature so that it instills a more caring approach on their part,” said Oakley, who graduated from Juanita High School. “Especially in Kirkland, we all want to be green. But, well, why?”
Her enterprise goes by the name Tree Time LLC. And her mission is to have people experience being in trees so that there’s a deeper understanding of why they should be protected.
Oakley found her passion after she read a book called “The Wild Trees” for a forestry class at the University of Washington. The book described the adventure of climbing the redwoods in such detail that it made her want to try it herself.
“I found this guy named Tim Kovar down in Oregon and I went and climbed,” she said. “I was already a teacher and my degree was in ecology and it all just kind of came together. This is what I want to do.”
Working at Kirkland-based Angelfish Swimming as a swim instructor on the side, Oakley took a 50-hour course at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon that taught her the ins and outs of tree climbing — a basic course, she said. After one year of practice, she took another 50-hour course, but this time it was to learn how to facilitate climbs.
Although she launched her business last summer, her first open climb took place on March 23.
“I’m the only one in the area doing this,” she said. “The City of Kirkland has told me at this time they’re not interested in pursuing tree climbing in their parks because it’s a risk.”
But the Everett resident said, according to the Tree Climbers International, in the 30 years of climbing with the rope method she employs, there have been zero reported accidents.
Ten months after applying for permits, Marymoor park officials agreed to let her use their trees for climbing. But she has to work around concerts and big events at the park and notify officials a week in advance. Oakley also has Kirkland-based Certified Arborist Tree Care LLC assess each tree before she facilitates climbing to ensure the trees are healthy enough.
Once the trees are deemed climbable by the arborist and Oakley, they’re open for newcomers.
“When you first get on the rope, you feel extremely uncoordinated,” she said. “One of the most enjoyable parts of facilitating is watching a child and a parent learn something new together. A lot of the time the parent wants to coach the child and then they get on the rope and they realize ‘oh, this is not as easy as I think.’”
Climbers get 30 minutes of prepping and safety instruction before they strap themselves in a tree harness — unlike a rock climbing harness — and learn the rope maneuver technique, to which Oakley has set up prior.
At all times the climbers are tied in during their hour-and-a-half-long climb.
“This is different, it’s something you’ve never experienced,” she said. “All of a sudden you’re sitting on a branch and then you have to step off the branch. It’s like stepping off a building, the first time you do it.”
Once climbers have climbed as high as they want, Oakley has about 10 minutes of quiet time.
“There’s something amazing about sitting up there on the branch and being quiet — I don’t know, there is something spiritual about it,” she said. “Once everybody’s on their rope and climbing, you can really experience the canopy and the sounds of it, the smell of it, take a moment to not be monkeying around in the trees and be noisy.”
Climbers are then taught how to get down after they’ve gone up so that Oakley can ensure they’re as safe as possible.
“I don’t want them coming down when I’m not relaying them and they’re not at the end of the rope, just in case,” she said. “It’s a totally independent exercise. You climb on your own on the way up and you can lower yourself down. It’s really a good confidence builder.”
Oakley said there are different rope systems for different heights, noting that one of her highest ropes has been 70 feet high.
Tree Time offers open climbs one to two times a month and has several scheduled this spring. She said almost anyone over the age of six can climb.
“One of the camps I’m working with is a special needs camp,” she said. “They work with kids with special needs, handicaps — anybody can climb, really.”
Oakley said she also hosts children’s birthday parties in the trees. She’ll set up a tree boat, a hammock-like structure with four tie-off points, and as long as the group is small — four to five kids — children can open presents in the tree.
Next season, spring/summer of 2015, Oakley hopes to expand her services to include overnight stays using the tree boat.
She plans on taking two to three climbers out to Tolt River, near Carnation, for the overnight stay.
“We’d have a campfire and a dinner kind of thing and then crawl up for the night,” she said. “It’s amazing to wake up in the trees. I get tingles just thinking about it.”
Oakley said she’s spent the night in trees in the past with other climbers and is in the process of talking with King County officials on getting permission to do the overnight stays at Tolt River.
Next year Oakley will also host the International Tree Climber Rendezvous at the Pack Forest Conference Center, which is owned by the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.
Aside from expanding her business services, Oakley’s five year plan includes working with more corporate offices, such as Microsoft and Google, and teaching more children how to climb at summer camps — possibly running her own summer camp, as well.
But her real long-term goal is to open a forest educational center.
“We’ve got ocean education centers … they have an orca education center right on the beach,” she said. “We don’t have anything like that for the forest.”
Although she acknowledges there are ranger stations, she said her center would incorporate tree climbing as the core of the facility.
“I don’t want to get into canopy walks, there’s a lot of canopy walks out there and there’s a lot of adrenaline stuff out there and that’s not what this is,” she said. “It’s a place to be, not a thing to do.”
And with a bachelor in science degree in ecology and conservation, Oakley said she’s not one to shy away from getting involved with a research team.
“A lot of it is this entirely unexplored ecosystem from the scientists’ point of view,” she said. “Nobody’s really studying the canopy and there are very few researchers doing it … So that was really intriguing to me, that it’s unexplored.”
Oakley said there’s little research on the canopy because there’s few climbers, which she hopes to change with her business.
Oakley said her big month will be April, as the focus is on Earth Day on April 22.
She’ll have two Earth Day open climbs — the first from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 19 and the second from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 27.
To join an open climb, patrons need only pay $25. It’s $300 for those who want their own private climb for up to nine climbers and $400 for lunch included.
For more information, visit www.climbwithtreetime.com or the Tree Time Facebook page.