Local arborist Jason Gerrish has been crowned Florida’s tree-climbing champion. Gerrish, the owner of Tree Huggers, 13900 Old Cutler Road, captured the title by winning first place in the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Florida Chapter Tree Climbing competition in upstate Lakeland. He competed in five events — secured footlock, speed climb, throw ball, work climb and aerial rescue.
The field of 32 was trimmed to four competitors who went on to the master challenge. Gerrish came out on top, winning tree-trimming equipment worth $1,000 and the right to represent Florida in the national competition in Milwaukee in August. To train for that event, Gerrish plans to hone his climbing skills in ISA competitions in North Carolina and Ohio, as well as to continue working his regular job. Most of the challenges in the contests are part of his day-to-day tree trimming life. “Working keeps me in the best shape,” he said. “I think I won this year because I’m a veteran industry professional and because I got a little lucky; I went into the event as the underdog and come out on top. I was a little surprised.”
Gerrish established Tree Huggers in 1997 as a residential and commercial tree care and landscaping business that specializes in tree pruning and dangerous tree removal. However, his treetrimming career began long before on the morning after Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami- Dade County. Gerrish borrowed a chainsaw to clean up his parent’s yard and got flagged down for what would be his first professional job. He subsequently worked with numerous tree care services and traveled around the country, from frigid Colorado to California’s land of 200-foot trees. He eventually returned to Miami and settled into his trade.
“With all my storm chasing experience and pruning skills, and having climbed in eight states and three countries, I consider myself one of the most well rounded tree care professionals in Florida and maybe the world,” he said.
Gerrish’s love of tree has given rise to Subtropical Hardwoods, an urban wood harvesting company that reclaims wood from the streets of Miami-Dade County. Subtropical Hardwoods mills logs into “incredible slabs unique in every way,” which can then be used for anything from small cutting boards to whole countertops. Slabs are available for purchase by homeowners, contractors, lumber yards and wood enthusiasts alike.
“Harvesting hardwoods right here in town has so many ecological and financial benefits to the community and the end user,” said Gerrish. “It’s a natural extension for me, combining my love of trees and carpentry.”