Bainbridge Island-based consultant’s work grew out of a horticulture background and a love of tree-climbing competitions.

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ARBORIST
Katy Bigelow

What do you do? I work as a consulting and climbing arborist for homeowners, architects and builders [in the Seattle area], and volunteer my time climbing older trees for research and fun. I also created and host an annual tree climbing competition aimed at including new climbers, especially women.

How did you get started in that field? My early training was in horticulture at the UC Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens, but I focused more on tree-specific training (including climbing and working on trees) soon after leaving that job. I learned most about climbing while training to compete in local tree-climbing competitions and working part time with a tree-service company.

What’s a typical day like? It’s a walk in the forest! On most workdays, I’m wandering around people’s property looking at their large trees, mainly assessing tree health and structures — do they pose a risk to the home? Are they healthy? How far away should we stay from the tree to keep it undamaged while adding a room on the house? And then there’s the odd cat-stuck-in-a-tree call.

What’s the best part of the job? Cat rescue! Not many climbing arborists like to climb and deal with a stressed kitty in the tree (and stressed kitty parents on the ground). Being able to help get a small family member back down to home and a dry bed is satisfying.

What surprises people about what you do? I’m often asked if I get bored of seeing the same kind of trees every day, but nope! Every single tree is different and each one poses its own challenges to a site. Others are surprised at the neutrality I bring to a site — I don’t sell tree services (pruning, removal, etc.) so I feel like my advice is grounded in offering the best management choices to clients without caring if they choose to manage their trees the way I recommend. Climbing old growth for fun is also a surprise to some — I’ve absolutely had some of my most peaceful and emotional moments while sitting in a tree hundreds of years older than I am.

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