Nearly 100 cyclists from the U.S., Canada and Europe are launching from Romare Bearden Park Sunday morning for the annual STIHL Tour des Trees benefiting the TREE Fund. The nonprofit has raised nearly $3 million for tree research and education programs since 2002.

After TREE Fund CEO J. Eric Smith cuts a ceremonial ribbon with a STIHL chainsaw, the group will bike 610 miles through North and South Carolina through Oct. 15. On the final day, they will take a victory lap from Le Meridien uptown to Latta Park in Dilworth, where they will celebrate Oaktoberfest from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. The free event is open to the public and will feature the celebration of a newly planted tree, free booths, and seedling and book giveaways.

But the cyclists have a long way to go, first.

Along the 98-mile ride on the first day, the cyclists will stop at Mooresville Public Library to plant trees and donate childrens books. They will also stop at Statesville Soccer Complex for a tree dedication and welcome by Lynn Miller, Superintendent of Parks.

All riders have committed to raise a minimum of $3,500 for this event. Proceeds from the Tour, which moves through a different part of North America each year, support research projects dedicated to the caring of urban trees and the safety of the tree care workforce. Proceeds also go toward arboriculture education programs for children and communities, as well as scholarships for future tree care professionals.

“My entire professional career I’ve worked in arboriculture and urban forestry, so I’ve seen firsthand the great work the TREE Fund has contributed to maintaining our urban tree resource,” said Patrick Anderson, 35, of Charlotte.

The Board-Certified Master Arborist with Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements is launching with the cyclists on Sunday. He participated in last year’s Tour as well.

Patrick Anderson with last year's group
Patrick Anderson with last year’s group

“I’ve been training as often as possible simply by riding my bike,” he said. “My favorite route takes me from my neighborhood — Windsor Park in East Charlotte — through (Charlotte) Country Club, Plaza Midwood, uptown, Dilworth, Myers Park, and looping back through Elizabeth. You get to see some magnificent trees from the seat of the bike.”

Trees are the No. 1 identifying factor about Charlotte, said Patrick George, 61, an operator with Heartwood Tree Service in our “City of Trees” who is cycling in the Tour for the second time.

Charlotte’s tree canopy is considered one of the best in the U.S., but has suffered tree loss because of issues like development and natural events.

“The more we know about [trees] the more we understand how valuable they are to us,” said George. During the trip he wants to educate communities in particular about an incoming invasion of Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that destroys Ash trees.

“Anything I can do to get people to perk their ears up because if they get their trees treated in advance,” he said, “they will be protected.”

Photos: Jeanette Martin, Patrick Anderson

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