Mont Alto forestry students conquer 135-foot yellow poplar in 'Big Tree Climb'

Forest technology instructor Houghton leads arboriculture class in annual tradition
Big Tree Climb

Forest technology instructor Craig Houghton's arboriculture class celebrated the annual tree climb.

Credit: Penn State

On Dec. 5, Penn State Mont Alto forestry students climbed a 135-foot yellow poplar on the Penn State Mont Alto campus in a 20-year annual exercise of forest technology instructor Craig Houghton’s arboriculture class.

“The Big Tree Climb culminates 15 weeks of students learning to safely and efficiently climb trees so they can properly care for them,” according to Houghton.

The climb was assisted by two Mont Alto alumni: Dave Poe, Class of 1998, and Tyler Hoffman, Class of 2013, both of Cumberland Valley Tree Service.

Houghton has coordinated this event since he started teaching at Penn State in 1993. “It is a fun exercise and I think of it as climbing a large mountain, like Mount Everest, where climbing teams assault the mountain in stages,” he said.

Houghton, who takes this opportunity to also take an annual class photograph, said he can only estimate the age of the tree to be about 100-years-old. “At 46 inches in diameter and being 135 feet tall, it is a big one,” he said. 

Penn State Mont Alto is well known for educating foresters. Founded in 1903 as the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy, Penn State Mont Alto is the oldest campus outside of University Park. The institution merged with the Penn State School of Forestry in 1929 and became a full-fledged Commonwealth Campus in 1963. Today, Penn State Mont Alto continues to educate America’s foresters as well as students in many other academic programs.

Students in the forest technology program can take advantage of the Penn State Mont Alto Arboretum. Established in 1903, it is a living, historic collection and outdoor classroom that contains more than 1,000 trees representing 29 families, 70 genera and 174 species.