Mt. Cuba’s annual Tree Festival is an old-time favorite. A fun-filled day celebrating the trees in their autumn glory gets a new exciting twist this year. A brand-new event, Kid’s Tree Climbing, will give kids a birds-eye view of Mt. Cuba. This event started with an idea from Mt. Cuba arborist, Eric Kelley, a third-generation arborist who loves working with trees.
We took some time to chat with him about this event on Saturday, September 25. Read on below to learn more about Kid’s Tree Climbing.
Mt. Cuba Center: Tell us more about your work with Mt. Cuba and how you began working with trees.
Eric Kelley: I was fortunate enough to have a father and grandfather as arborists. Trees and the caring for trees, among other plants, was very familiar to me. However, it wasn’t until I became an arborist assistant that I worked in trees using chainsaws, rope, and all the gear associated with arboriculture. I’m very happy and thankful to have learned this trade from my father.
Mt. Cuba Center: What is the view like from the top of the trees at Mt. Cuba Center?
Eric Kelley: The view depends on the topography and direction. Valley treetops gets a unique view of those parts of the garden, but the best views are from trees on top of the hill. You are above most of the surrounding areas and in some places have a 20-mile visibility. Facing east/northeast you can see the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the Delaware River, and even New Jersey. You can also see the Wells Fargo Tower on 202. On a clear day, guests can get a glimpse of the Delaware Memorial Bridge from the lookout.
Mt. Cuba Center: What was the inspiration behind bringing Kid’s Tree Climbing to Tree Festival?
Eric Kelley: The initial inspiration came from volunteering for Kevin Braun, the head arborist at Winterthur, at their kids climbing event at their annual Truck and Tractor Day back in 2019. After seeing how successful they were at making it safe, fun, and efficient it became a possibility for us to try it and share our landscape with guests from the vertical space.
Mt. Cuba Center: Are certain types of trees better for tree climbing?
Eric Kelley: That depends on what better means. Excurrent trees, ones which have a central stem (leader) from which all other branches originate such as most evergreens and dawn redwoods tend to have a branch structure that is like climbing a ladder. It can make climbing them more comforting as there are a lot of branches around to grab and stand on but can also be challenging to keep your climbing rope clear and on a straight path.
Decurrent trees, like a lot of deciduous trees (oaks, maples, etc), don’t have the ladder-like branch structure typically so climbing them may not be as easy but they give you the space to swing and maneuver.
Mt. Cuba Center: What trees are available for tree climbing?
Eric Kelley: The tree that kids will have the opportunity to climb is our large Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa, by the front courtyard, just outside of our eagle statues. It’s a large Bur oak, about 80’ tall with acorns that are on the larger side for most oak trees. In general, Bur oaks are a long-lived oak, with a life span of 200-300 years! Not to worry, we won’t be asking kids to climb all the way to top!
Mt. Cuba Center: How do kids climb up the trees and is it safe?
Eric Kelley: We will be asking the kids to climb up the tree in what is called a doubled-rope climbing system. The rope will go from a climbing device called a unicender, which is attached to their harness, up to a pulley installed in the tree and back down through the unicender. Kids will be pulling themselves up the tree by pulling down on the tail of this rope! Assistance will be available if necessary.
As far as safety goes, all the equipment except the harnesses have to be rated to a minimum breaking strength of 5,400 lbs to be used in arboriculture according to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z.133 standard. The harnesses are sport climbing harnesses for kids and aren’t subject to the 5,400 lb rule but are rated for kids up to 120 lbs.
Mt. Cuba Center: To wrap things up, do you have a favorite tree at Mt. Cuba? Why is it your favorite and how would you describe it?
Eric Kelley: There are a lot to choose from, and a couple of my favorites are no longer here. If I had to pick, there is a white oak in our north van garage complex that has the coolest spreading, decurrent growth habit at about 60’ tall and as wide. It’s an oak so it’s super strong and gives confidence to a climber; is very fun to climb around in with a variety of options; and always has an abundance of acorns that feeds a lot of wildlife.
Ready to learn more about trees? Check out this video featuring Bill Trescott, arborist, to learn more about Mt. Cuba’s Wye Oak, helpful planting tips, and the Kid’s Climb at Tree Festival.
Tree Festival takes place in-person (at Mt. Cuba Center) Saturday, September 25 (Rain Date: Sunday, September 26). It is included with general admission.