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Sharing a Passion for Trees: The Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop

For Reiko Matsuda Goodwin, a biological anthropologist at Fordham University, climbing trees appeared to be something she didn’t have the “muscles” to do.

“The industry is still dominated by men, so people like me who did not know much about tree climbing may have this preconceived idea that tree climbing is difficult and only people who have muscles can do it,” she said.

However, when a friend and fellow professor told her about the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop (WTCW), Goodwin said she had a change of heart. “When I learned about the WTCW, I liked the idea of women teaching other women about tree climbing. I thought if other women can do, so can I.”

Beginning in 2009, the WTCW is a three-day experience dedicated to creating a safe, encouraging and empowering learning environment for women to climb trees with an emphasis on arboriculture.

“I initially thought that this workshop teaches you about techniques and how to build certain muscles, but it was much more than that,” Goodwin said. “The term ‘workshop’ is a misnomer. It taught me not just the techniques and safety of tree climbing, but also to be a better human being. It may sound dramatic, but really I thought this changed my life.”

Over 10 years the WTCW trained more than 700 hundred women said Bear LeVangie, co-founder and a lead instructor with the WTCW. “Seeing [the workshop] grow from one day to three has been an amazing experience,” she said. “But having people come up to you and say ‘You saved my life,’ and seeing people grow beyond their original capabilities has been paramount.”

According to the WTCW website, LeVangie, an ISA Certified Arborist® and ISA member, and her fellow instructors focus on creating a shared positive experience to accommodate many different styles of learning. It is this approach to teaching that students, like Goodwin who hadn’t climbed trees prior to the workshop, find to be the most helpful.

“I actually never had a female mentor who would gently nurture me,” she said. “They gently guided me and other novice participants step-by-step by explaining in detail each piece of equipment and each technique. Also, they make the point of deep respect for nature and that resonates with me.”

Since participating in the WTCW, Goodwin has utilized the tree climbing skills she learned in the for her work in Côte d’Ivoire where she runs a project called the Comoé Monkey Project in the Comoé National Park—the largest protected area in Africa.

Helping women grow in their careers is one of the aspects LeVangie said she enjoys about the workshop. “Being a mentor helps create a pathway for less confident individuals that leads to growth.”

According to LeVangie, women make up approximately five percent of the workforce. By teaching women to climb, the WTCW not only creates an opportunity for someone, it helps to diversify the workforce as well.

“Once you bring women into the workforce it changes the job culture,” she said. “By developing a collaborative environment that encompasses different voices everyone wins.”

However, the workshop extends beyond helping women in the arboricultural field. Many participants of the workshop come from outside the field of arboriculture.

“Not everyone who comes to the workshop wants to be an arborist,” said LeVangie. “A lot of people want to climb for different reasons. We’ve had bird researchers, photographers, storytellers, aerial dancers and so many others. There are so many things tree climbing can do for you outside of arboriculture.”

Before starting the workshop LeVangie said she had always been passionate about trees. With a background in forestry, she was searching for work as a forester, when her sister, Melissa LeVangie, introduced the idea of the workshop to her and she “never looked back.”

During the workshop, women learn a multitude of styles in climbing equipment and techniques, but it’s her passion for trees that not only sticks with students like Goodwin, it’s what makes the WTCW successful.

“This workshop couldn’t happen without the passion of everyone involved,” she said. “It comes from a passion for trees. When we teach climbing we also teach respect for the tree, which is a living creature.”

Check out the other Women in Arboriculture profiles.