Cycling for a Cause
By Chuck Kellen
This summer, the STIHL Tour des Trees celebrates its silver anniversary—25 years of challenging participants to hop on their bikes for a weeklong, 500-plus-mile, cycling event in support of trees, environmental conservation, and sustaining urban green spaces. A few like-minded arborists with ambitions of making the future more green began the tour in 1992 to support the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund.
This crusade requires tactics more dynamic than a pamphlet and a plea approach. It provides a platform for people to experience and enjoy the benefits of trees—from the saddle of a bike. Enjoying long rides through city landscapes and exploring tree-lined neighborhoods, parks, and downtown streets offer participants a tangible adventure. As a swift breeze blows against sturdy branches and rustles leaves, participants bask in the cool shade of a grand oak while stopping to hydrate on a hot day. They can find “Zen” in the green of a downtown park, or relish the spectacular color displays along country highways. The tour goes beyond asking for donations—it encourages the public to reach out and touch the richness that trees bring to our homes.
Since 2002, the TREE Fund has issued nearly $3.2 million in grants to finance vital research on urban tree care with the help of STIHL Tour des Trees fundraising efforts. The tour has grown to become America’s largest fundraiser to improve the current state of trees through research, education, and awareness. These projects have succeeded in making significant advancements in major areas, such as root and soil management, plant health care, urban-forestry propagation, planting, and establishment. But the work of the TREE Fund stretches beyond field studies and laboratories; it strives to engage the public to help build and maintain a better, cleaner world. Money raised also produces arboriculture-education programs—from scientific webinars to those featuring the kid-friendly Professor Elwood Pricklethorn—and provides scholarships to the next generation of aspiring arborists.
As part of an ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship, STIHL Inc. has been the title sponsor of the STIHL Tour des Trees since 2009. A sense of corporate responsibility to bettering green space is what drives involvement in the tour. The message is clear to the public—keeping urban forests healthy and thriving requires help from everyone.
I had the privilege of participating in my first tour during the Oregon ride in 2012. It was daunting, exhausting, and rewarding. I’ve eagerly repeated the overall transcendent experience four times. The tour is more than the “standard” philanthropic endeavor. With a new location each year, every tour is an exciting new adventure. Riders work hard to fundraise, committing to a minimum of $3,500 each by reaching out to friends, family, and sponsors. But more than just a wellspring of much-needed funding, this event actively involves local communities by planting trees and educating the public at stops along the route.
As a participant, the tour forces you to make goals, and challenges you to achieve them. Is it the first time out? Aspire to finish each day. Are you a long-time cyclist? Vow to push yourself to the front of the pack! Are you struggling to meet these goals? Look around—you have a whole entourage of support in other riders. The tour builds bonds between riders, tapping into their love for cycling and environmental conservation. As I approach my fifth ride, I am certain that these lifetime friendships are worth the long days of riding and the “I’m never going to finish” moments, even when you’re pumping through rain or gasping through heat.
Join us this summer, July 30 through August 5, as a volunteer. The route—designed for the first time as a series of loops—will take cyclists from country roads to urban trails, trekking through Washington, D.C. to Annapolis, Md. and around Leesburg, Va.
Do you want your park system to be involved in the 2018 Tour? Next year’s tour will be held in Ohio and is still in its early planning stages. The route has yet to be determined, so park systems interested in partnering with the tour are encouraged to reach out as soon as possible. For more information on how to add your park to the 2018 map, contact TREE Fund (www.treefund.org). Are you intrigued at the prospect of being included if future rides come to your area? Reach out now.
You don’t have to ride the tour to make a difference; you can partner, volunteer, or simply donate by sponsoring a rider or team. Support in any form is appreciated.
Chuck Kellen is a Test Cell Supervisor at STIHL Inc. He is also a member of Team STIHL and will complete his fifth STIHL Tour des Trees this year.