By Bharat Venkatesh
Nearly 100 cyclists and tree enthusiasts are peddling through the Carolinas as part of the 24th annual STIHL Tour des Trees this month, from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15, all to boost awareness about the importance of trees and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit the TREE Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to the discovery and international dissemination of new knowledge in urban forestry and arboriculture.
Trees are not only beautiful, they also provide us with several essential goods necessary for our survival, such as oxygen, food and shelter. Researchers and organizations need funding in order to provide communities and tree care professionals with resources and strategies to better plant, propagate and care for our urban canopies.
Hence, the TREE Fund, which provides such funding in the form of grants totaling nearly $3 million since 2002 with the help of the STIHL Tour des Trees, is indubitably an inspired initiative and irrefutably crucial to modern society.
“The STIHL Tour des Trees is unquestionably our most important, high-impact community engagement event,” says TREE Fund President and CEO J. Eric Smith. “We literally take our show on the road for a full week in a different part of the country each year, providing national exposure to the importance of tree research and education to a healthy urban canopy.”
“We meet with community advocates, schoolchildren, media outlets, tree workers, homeowners, municipal leaders and just regular folks along the road, and our volunteers’ knowledge and enthusiasm is truly infectious. It’s also extraordinary how hard our riders work to generate funds for research, and how generous our corporate partners are in defraying our operating expenses, so that 100% of the funds raised by our volunteers go straight to research.”
Recent projects and studies supported by the TREE Fund include Dr. Susan Day of Virginia Tech’s “Urban Forests as Storm Water Systems” that examines the role of canopy structures and ground cover in storm water mitigation, Dr. Glynn Percival of Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory’s “Can Soil Amendments Reduce Disease Severity in Trees?” that focuses on the issue of finding alternatives to synthetic chemicals for controlling various tree diseases, and Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch and Dr. Les Werner of the University of Wisconsin’s “A Soil Management Toolbox for Urban Trees” that involves developing soil management toolboxes for urban tree managers.
However, TREE Fund’s sphere of support and financial backing is not restricted to critical tree research, and it also helps fund educational programs aimed at connecting young people with the environment and career opportunities in the green industries.
Recent TREE Fund education grant recipients include Asheville GreenWorks, an organization that helped to provide tree detective kits to public schools and libraries to promote interactive learning about trees, Greening of Detroit, whose Our LAND project (Learn, Admire, Nurture and Dream) serves students by providing on-site field experiences and service learning opportunities taking place in Detroit’s largest park, and South Dakota State University’s McCrory Gardens, which hosted a junior arborist camp designed to acquaint middle school and high school students with the careers available in arboriculture.
The STIHL Tour des Trees is North America’s largest fundraiser for tree research, and has already raised over $200,000 this year with plans to exceed $300,000. As for the participants of the tour, although they come from all walks of life, they cycle for a common goal, which is to promote the importance of continued research to support science-based tree care.