Elachee Offers Treetop Lessons in Loving Nature

By Alexander Popp and reproduced with permission from the originally posted article on October 22, 2016 7:15 p.m. in the Gainesville Times

Surely the Lorax would have been proud to see the Elachee Nature Sicence Center on Saturday, and how its trees were carefully climbed, lovingly observed and well spoken for.

Elachee Nature Sicence Center held its inaugural North Georgia Tree Festival, a celebration of the season and the silent leafy giants that populate our forests. Visitors roamed Chicopee Woods to learn about tree species, participated in a tree sale and fun run through the woods, and climbed high into the treetops with the help of professional climbers.Ava Collins, 10, hangs out in a tree after climbing about 30 feet Saturday during the North Georgia Tree Festival at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. The event included tree climbing, a kids’ fun run and crafts.

John Girardeau, chairman of Elachee’s Board of Trustees, said the event was the perfect way to underscore the important role trees play in an ecosystem, mixing education with fun.

Girardeau said because trees are so commonplace, we often overlook the work they do, “filtering air and water, and providing us with beauty and oxygen.”

“You could run a list on and on and on about the importance of trees. This just underscores that importance to us and other living things,” he said.

Girardeau said though it may seem trees are abundant in North Georgia, more than 2,000 acres are lost in Hall County every year due to development.

“And that’s not all bad,” he said. “You have to take trees down to make room for construction. But it’s important for us to realize what is happening and where trees are coming down so we can replenish and replace them.”

Andrea Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee, said the answer is to reach out to everyone.

“The more people who get outside, enjoy it, and understand how important and complicated our ecosystem is, the easier it will be for us to pay a part in helping it,” Timpone said.

She hopes to show kids how to enjoy being outdoors and create a new generation of people invested in protecting Georgia’s natural resources.

One budding conservationist, 10-year-old Ava Collins of Chestnut Mountain, was one of the first to climb a tree Saturday, scampering up the rope like a squirrel up a trunk. After getting used to the height of the white oak tree from which she dangled, “it wasn’t scary at all,” and said it made her feel “like a bird.”

Ava and her dad Jef visit the Chicopee Woods hiking trails often. Her favorite part is, “just seeing how beautiful everything is.”