Morris Arboretum class on tree-climbing for women

For women who may see a future in climbing trees, the Morris Arboretum is offering a class Saturday. Tiffany Cheng, an educational assistant at Morris, tests her skills in an oak.
For women who may see a future in climbing trees, the Morris Arboretum is offering a class Saturday. Tiffany Cheng, an educational assistant at Morris, tests her skills in an oak. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer, with DANIEL WEITOISH)
Posted: April 03, 2014

Rachel Brudzinski got her first job with a tree-care company when she was 18. She liked the secretarial work, but deep down, she thought the guys were having all the real fun as they went out day after day to climb and trim the trees.

So she worked her way up - literally.

"I was always jealous watching the guys going out and doing tree work," Brudzinski said. "One spring, I said, 'I want to do it. Teach me how.' There was a little bit of resistance, because they said, 'No. This is a boy's job.' "

Brudzinski eventually got her training and joined the men in the trees. In fact, she represented Victorian Gardens of White Lake, Mich., in the 2012 Michigan Tree Climbing championships and won the women's competition, finishing 19th among 23 total climbers.

Brudzinski "loved being in trees," said Dawn Thierbach of Victorian Gardens.

After that, Brudzinski brought her skills East from her home in Detroit to work in Philadelphia as an intern at the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum.

There, she extended a similar opportunity to other women interested in climbing and caring for trees, creating a class for women at the arboretum, which is along Wissahickon Creek on the border of Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties on East Northwestern Avenue.

The second Introductory Tree Climbing for Women class, to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday for $125, is designed to teach women how to tie knots, fit their harnesses, and ascend safely into tree canopies.

"Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I can give a bit of a different understanding about how to do it," said Brudzinski, who now works as an arborist at the New York Botanical Garden in New York City.

Brudzinski's class at Morris is tailored to the different needs and challenges that women encounter as arborists.

"I think [the goal] is really to show . . . that women are capable," said Susan Crane, marketing director at Morris. "Women are equally capable to do many of the things that are required in the field of arboriculture and tree work."

Due to their physical distinctions, there are some differences in how men and women work in trees. Mostly, it's an issue of technique.

"The biggest difference is that women have much stronger legs [relative to their size], and men have much stronger shoulders and backs," said Brudzinski, who noted that she knew of about 17 other female arborists. "A woman learning how to tree-climb has to focus on a different part of her body than a man would."

Morris Arboretum held its first women's class for tree-climbing in October. The regular tree-climbing classes are open to women, too, but they can be "intimidating because there are mostly men taking the classes and teaching them," said Tiffany Cheng, an educational assistant at Morris, who took the women's class in the fall.

Brudzinski said that she hoped eventually to start a women's climbing class in New York, but that, these days, she has concentrated on her class on chainsaw maintenance, safety, and use.

Crane, not officially a member of the October class, was there to take photos. But, like Brudzinski in her secretarial days, she couldn't help but get involved.

"I hadn't intended to take the class," Crane said. "But I was so inspired by watching that I had to climb the tree as well."



For more information about

Saturday's class, go to

classes or call 215-247-5777.

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