Adventure-seekers can catch a bird's-eye view of First Night, the city's family-friendly New Year's Eve party, from the top of the largest banyan tree in North Straub Park.
Pathfinder Outdoor Education will use a system of ropes and harnesses more commonly found in the canopies of rainforests to help climbers 6 and older scale the iconic banyan tree on Beach Drive, whose primeval look has made it a popular climbing spot and backdrop for tourists' photos.
Fifteen climbers at a time will have a half-hour to hoist themselves through the tree's sinewy branches using a self-tending knot and a foot loop that works as a pulley system. The ropes allow climbers to move at their own pace and can be adjusted based on upper arm strength and size. Pathfinder climbers will also be on hand to help those who are struggling or have special needs.
"Once you're in the tree you can walk around on the branches, sit down and enjoy the view," Pathfinder Field Director Sherry Bagley said. "Even if they're scared of heights, everyone that has climbed trees with us finds it to be exhilarating and a great personal triumph."
Pathfinder and the city have taken special precautions to protect the trees, Pathfinder Event Coordinator Amy Durand said. The entire climb will be facilitated with ropes tied around the tree and outfitted with cambium savers, pieces of plastic that prevent the rope from rubbing away at the bark.
"We love trees, and we're not going to do anything to harm the banyans," Durand said. "Once we take down the ropes, nothing is left behind."
The banyan tree has been reviewed by a city arborist and weight-tested by Pathfinder employees, marking the areas that are safe to climb and removing any dead wood in the tree that could fall, Bagley said.
Though climbing a banyan tree will be a special experience for the group, which normally climbs live oaks, it shouldn't be more difficult, Bagley said. Pathfinder climbers have consulted with the Global Organization of Tree Climbers for advice on handling the unique tree.
Those interested in climbing the trees should wear closed-toed shoes with hard soles and long pants, Durand said.
The banyan tree climb is free and runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Helmets and harnesses will be provided, and people will go through a five-minute training session before climbing. People of any size and weight can climb, and anyone older than 6 can take part.
In addition to the banyan tree climb, the alcohol-free, family friendly First Night event will feature musical performances by St. Petersburg native and American Idol finalist Michael Lynche, 14-year-old pop singer Macy Kate and 10-year-old DJ BabyChino, plus other performers and activities. First Night is a free event, but people can buy buttons designed by local artists for $10, and the proceeds help pay for the event.
"The festival has always ebbed and flowed with the changing environment in the city, but it's always been meant to show art in unexpected places," First Night Executive Director Lara Shelton said.
The 20th-annual First Night also will include giant games of Twister and a birthday cake decorated by attendees. The event runs from 5 p.m. to midnight in Straub Park and includes fireworks displays at 9 p.m. and at midnight. For information, go to www.firstnightstpete.com