The Matlacha Hookers welcomed 85 cyclists from the Stihl Tour des Trees at Matlacha Park Wednesday morning.
"It was raining so hard this morning, Sue Slingerland, Program Specialist with Lee County Parks and Recreation said, "that I invited the group inside the Recreational Center where the Hookers set up tables of cookies, brownies and fruit for the cyclists."
The Stihl Tour des Trees is a week-long, 500-mile cycling event held each year to benefit the Tree Fund (Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund). Since 1992, the Tour des Trees has raised more than $7.2 million for scientific research and educational programs related to arboriculture (the science of caring for trees in a landscape) and urban forestry.
Some of the participating bicyclists gather during their stop at Matlacha Park.
"This is the signature fundraiser for the Tree Fund and the largest fundraiser in North America, for tree research," Mary DiCarlo, Tree Fund development specialist said. "We are a 501(c)3 non-profit. Our mission is to identity and fund projects: research projects, educational programs and scholarships that are strictly focused on bettering urban trees."
The 2015 Stihl Tour des Trees began in Orlando Oct. 25. From there the group cycled 103 miles to Ruskin. Then 70 miles to Sarasota and 93 miles to Punta Gorda. Wednesday morning the group left for the 70 mile ride to Matlacha Park where they planned to plant a Live Oak Tree.
"In the course of this tour we will plant 13 new trees," DiCarlo said. "Today's tree is dedicated to Susie Stevens and The Susie Forest. Sadly Susie Stevens was struck and killed by a bus crossing the street in St. Louis in 2002. Her mother, Nancy McCarrow, has been volunteering for many years with the Stihl Tour des Trees planting trees in remembrance of her daughter. We call this collection of trees 'The Susie Forest'. Although it's a little wet today and we won't get this tree planted today Sue Slingerland has promised to have the tree planted as soon as possible probably when things dry out in a day or two."
"The tour and the people who participate are a very 'good energy' group," DiCarlo said. "They are arborists, researchers, educators and just people who care about the environment.
Chuck Kellen is a product testing engineer with Stihl and took part in the ride for tree research.
"I'm from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and fully support this event for the money it raises for tree research. Many of the people here today have been involved in arbor-culture. Along with a couple of other colleagues I was offered the opportunity to be here and am having a great time. This isn't my first trip to Florida but it is my first time to Matlacha and from what I've seen it's beautiful."
Christian Siewert owns a tree care company in Michigan.
"I rode for the first time in 2001 and haven't made every ride but I have made most of them," Siewert said. "I own a small tree care company in New Buffalo, Michigan, so I'm very tuned in to trees. I was at an international conference where lots of riders showed up. I just decided I wanted to be a part of that and began riding. Plus this offers an opportunity for me to give something back."
"If I was to summarize the tour in one sentence, it would be, 'We are raising the money that funds the science that educates the industry that takes care of the trees,'" DiCarlo said.
From Matlacha Park the bicycling group left for Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Cape Coral and then on to Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Everglades City, Coral Gables, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale on Oct. 31 for a total of 560 miles.