Tom Thibault: At home in the trees

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When he was young, Tom Thibault had a fear of heights. He doesn’t remember how he got over that, but there’s no question he has, since he owns and operates Thibault’s Tree Service out of his Hinesburg home. Thibault has worked in the tree business for fifteen years and this is the fifth year that he’s been out on his own. For several years, in addition to his Vermont work, he was a member of a part-time crew that helped remove trees which had been hit by a beetle infestation at Big Bear Lake in Southern California. The highest one he had to climb was 190 feet tall.

Not only has he gotten over his fear of heights, but Thibault says he’s more comfortable just throwing a rope over a tree and pulling himself up than using mechanical aids like ladders. For dead trees that need to be cut down, he has no problem climbing up with spikes. Thibault travels all over Vermont, but the majority of his work these days is around Lake Champlain. Previously he worked for a tree preservation company but his current jobs mostly involve pruning or clearing trees for enhanced views. Thibault is a popular man after storms, often helping homeowners clear downed trees from their houses.

A native Vermonter, Thibault’s grandparents had a farm in Charlotte. He has lived in Hinesburg Village for almost a decade and loves the small community feel. “I know everyone,” he said. “You help people out and they help you out.”

In addition to cutting and pruning trees, Thibault also plants them, grinds stumps and does excavation work. He has had some interesting projects including one where he had to wade into the water at Lake Iroquois to clear downed trees from camps and docks after a local microburst and another at Shelburne Point which required him to hang over a cliff to cut tree roots that were eroding the bank.

Of late, Thibault has been getting a lot of requests to work with box elders which are one of his least favorite species. “They have horrible holding wood,” he said. “They’re a weed tree and they’re unpredictable. They grow around houses next to the foundation and they don’t grow straight so they’re often unsafe and threaten the house.” Thibault enjoys the challenge of his job as well as the variety. “Every tree is different,” he said. “You have to learn the wood because they all react differently. The harder woods have better holding when they’re alive and the softer woods don’t have as much control. You have to do this for a while to understand how different trees react.”

The summer is Thibault’s busiest time because it’s when people think about tree work, but he finds it easier to work in winter when the ground is frozen. “You do less damage that way,” he said. For now, Thibault’s Tree Service is a solo operation. He’s thinking of hiring another employee but since his business is new, he wants to make sure the work is done correctly and his reputation is a good one. “I really enjoy the work,” he said. “I like being outside and it’s rewarding to be working for myself. People appreciate the work I do and that’s rewarding, as well.”