for National Geographic News
Upwards of 75,000 people are expected to trek this weekend to a small New York town in the Appalachian Mountains to catch an eyeful of fall's crimson, gold, and yellow leaves shimmering in the breeze.
And as the leaf peepers gaze into the sugar maple trees ringing the local elementary school, they'll also catch the peculiar sight of people hanging out in the branches. These folks will be participants in the Cohocton Fall Foliage Festival's trademark event: tree-sitting.
"Everything has a gimmick, and the tree-sitting thing is kind of our gimmick," said Tom Cox, chairman of this year's festival, which runs from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon.
The contest begins at 5 p.m. on Friday with about 20 participants clambering up into the trees. There they'll try to stay until 5 p.m. on Sunday. The grand prize is a check for $200 (U.S.).
The official winner is the person who stays in the tree for the longest time with the least amount of equipment, such as food, water, or a hammock, according to Keryn Shaver, who organizes the event.
"The guy who won last year took nothing except the clothes he had on and just sat in the tree. That's hard to do without falling," she said.
The tree-sitting contest started in 1968, two years after the annual festival began.
"All the adults were down on the ground selling stuff, but there was nothing for the kids to do, so some decided to go sit up in a tree," Cox said.
In the early years tree sitters played guitars, sang songs, and "did the kinds of things kids did back in the sixties," Cox added. Now the event is more organized, with a set of watchers and official rules.
For example, three minutes are deducted for any out-of-the-tree bathroom break. "The ones that end up winning don't come down at all," Shaver said.
In addition to such time deductions, participants are disqualified if they drop anything. Spectators are not allowed to touch the tree sitters or give them food or drink.
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