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Foster Kids Find 'Tree Time' Peaceful And Rewarding

Being a foster kid isn't always easy — especially when it's time to leave for college, or even the real world. But one Clackamas County program is helping kids who are facing that transition. 

Recently, a group of 10 kids got treated to a unique outing: recreational tree climbing.  OPB's Andrew Theen tagged along and filed this report.

ClimbingGerri Pierson lives on a 150 idyllic acres out near Oregon City.  It's teeming with her companions — Tibetan Terriers.

Gerri Pierson: "There's a three acre lake down there."

We get in her Suburban and head down a bumpy road towards the area of her property Tim Kovar calls "a tree climber's paradise."  We stand in front of a towering white oak tree.

Tim Kovar: "Anybody ever technically climbed trees before?

Kids: "With ropes and harnesses?  Nothing like this."

Tim Kovar: "How many of you have climbed a tree period?  Pretty much everyone I assume."

Tim Kovar is a professional tree climbing instructor with New Tribe, a southern Oregon company.   He's been tree-climbing for 15 years. He said he loves to relax in a tree and simply enjoy some "tree time."

Tim Kovar: " I'm going to hook each one of you on one at a time."

Joy Haynes, the program manager for Clackamas County's Independent Living Program watches with a smile.  It's a beautiful August day, and instead of sitting inside, her kids are about to try something completely new.

Haynes helps foster kids between the age of 14 and 21 find employment and improve life skills.

Joy Haynes: "How to rent an apartment, how to buy a car, how to open a bank account, all sorts of different life skills."

Andrew Theen: "How to climb a tree."

Joy Haynes: "How to climb a tree is another one.  You know.  Team-building."

EquipmentTim Kovar helps high school student Daria grab what's called a climbing saddle.

Daria: "Is this going to be around my waist or hips?"

Tim Kovar: "Right above the hips. So yeah, before you put these on, you gotta step into these leg holes here."

Tree climbing is all about using your legs.  You don't actually ever grab the trunk of the tree.  There are no hand holds. 

One end of a rope is tied to a saddle, the other is looped over a branch usually 40 or 50 feet up.  And that end of the rope has a place to put your feet.  You essentially stand up while suspended and pull yourself up the tree, inch by inch.  Piece of cake right? 

Tim Kovar says the pastime is booming.

Tim Kova: "Tree climbing is becoming one of the last frontiers.  You don't have to go off, drive four hours to a rock face to climb a rock.  Trees are everywhere.   Trees are in your backyard."

Michael: "It was really relaxing up there when you just sit there.  I dunno.  It seems quieter up there."'

That's Michael.  He tried at least 3 of the 8 different routes up the tree.

Michael: "I thought it was going to be dorky.  But I had nothing else to do, so I thought what the heck.  But it was a lot funner than I thought it would be."

Michael made tree-climbing look easy.

Michael:"I thought it would be easy.  But it really wasn't.  I didn't think there would be that much work involved."

How's it feel up there?

Joy Haynes with the Independent Living Program says the kids have a lot on their plate, like trying to find housing and be successfull on their own.   So extracurricular activities are much needed breaks from the daily grind.

Joy Haynes: "Everyone of these kids is going to take out something different from this experience, but it's going to carry over in their life and in the future.   So we'll always looking for opportunities where they're going to grow and learn while they are still having fun."

Watching all this tree climbing makes me interested.  So I saddle up.

Andrew Theen: "I'm about 25-30 feet up in this oak tree.  And it's pretty peaceful up here.  That was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be."

With the help of Tim Kovar I repel back to the Earth.

Along with a group of kids from Clackamas County I have a new appreciation for tree climbing.  And like them, I'm pretty sure I  could use a little more tree time in my life.

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