ITHACA, NY — Growing up along the lovely Potomac River, as a kid Keith Vanderhye could usually be found perched in the gracious old hemlocks near his home. With lots of freedom to roam the forest and discover the soft forest floor under the stately aged trees, Keith explored the vibrant animal and plant life that thrived in their shade.
After college, Keith, still in his 20s, was drawn to a forest farming project beginning at Cornell. Searching for a way to pay his living expenses, Keith began going door-to-door in his battered truck with his chainsaw, offering tree trimming to homeowners. As word of his skills and his availability spread, soon known locally as Keith Limbwalker, his business took shape. Although the McDaniels’ Nut Grove had lured Keith to Ithaca, his life sprinted off in an unexpected direction.
So how has life worked out without a business plan?
“It’s been great. Over time, we’ve learned all aspects of a tree care business,” Keith said. “We have great relationships with Cascadilla Tree Care, and Thompson Tree and Crane Service, among others. And our business became robust and stable over time. We now have a whole array of vehicles and equipment, and every workday is filled. We keep our two stump grinders, three skid steers, five dump trucks and our crane ‘busy.’ If stretched, our crane can double as another dump truck. We love the equipment and Cody Sykes, my partner for many years, knows all it takes to maintain everything, including hydraulic motors.
“Early on, when Cody was about 20, I passed him as he was unloading some equipment at his parents’ house. I could tell it was tree climbing equipment, so I moseyed over. ‘You look like a tree climber,’” Keith said.
Keith, modest about his own talents, raves about Cody Sykes’ skills — “Awesome guy with great skills.” Not to mention that one of Cody’s brothers, DJ, is a diesel mechanic for his own tree service out of town. So complementary!
Tree Climber, Zack Borg, up in the tree cutting down a branch while Dan O’Connell holds a tagline to ensure the branch drops safely in the proper location.
Cody joined the company 13 years ago as an employee in 2008, and became a partner in 2017.
Cody grew up on Main Street, Freeville. He describes his parents as the role models for him and his brothers.
“Our father was a farmer and worked all the time, but still made time to do milk testing for other farmers,” Cody said. “Later he went on to run the food science dairy plant at Cornell for 18 years…Our mother, another around-the-clock worker, is strong and tough and loving. She takes care of everyone…Two of us boys own tree service companies, and our third brother is vice president of an insurance company…Working hard is second nature to all of us.
And Keith is like another brother.”
Being limbwalkers, these chaps and their team venture out on the limbs from scary heights.
Keith said: “Trees are our biggest infrastructure. Often, we can improve their longevity with pruning work. We work safely: When we are in the trees, we are tied in with a rope that can support 8,000 pounds, along with a secondary rope that contains a steel aircraft cable. To be certified arborists we take continuing education courses each year.”
Eventually, Cody and Keith decided to buy a 75-foot bucket truck to enhance their limbwalking.
This year when the tree trimming season began anew, we learn that Cody is now the owner of Limbwalkers, and the fine work continues smoothly. Cody, also a certified arborist, said: “Customers rave about the Limbwalker work ethic and quality services…We have terrific folks on our team in the trees and in our office. I couldn’t do it without Zach Borg, a certified arborist and estimator, Dan O’Connell, Rocco Rich, Joe Kather, Matt Savage and Catalina Peralta. Every workday we are booked and every night we feel good about the work we have done for customers who are pleased. And we are glad that no matter where Keith wanders, we know he will work with us when winter ends and Limbwalker Tree Service starts climbing up the trees.”