Fort Myers Beach resident Bill Veach is giving new meaning to the term 'tree hugger.'
Beginning next week, Veach will be participating in America's largest fundraiser for tree research -the STIHL Tour des Trees- in Wisconsin. From Sunday, July 27 to Saturday, Aug. 2, he will join nearly 100 cyclists who have committed a week of their summer to ride 583 miles on a bike and each raise a minimum of $3,500 for the Tree Research & Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund). As of Tuesday morning, Veach's campaign has racked up $4,500, while Team Florida has raised $10,875 for the cause.
"I am looking forward to testing myself and seeing how fast I can recover from a long ride. I think the camaraderie of the group will be fun, and the ride is filled with educational activities (that) includes tree plantings and dedications every day," said Veach. "We have three 100-plus mile days at the start of the ride, so in all honesty I will be looking forward to getting off the bike and into a shower. I am also looking forward to really getting a feel for Wisconsin. I think riding along the lake should be beautiful."
Beach resident Bill Veach, shown here at 12,000 feet from a training ride on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado recently, is joining nearly 100 cyclists who have committed a week of their summer to ride 583 miles on a bike in Wisconsin and raise funds for the Tree Research & Education Endowment Fund.
This year's Tour traces a loop through eastern Wisconsin, beginning from the legendary Milwaukee German Fest and returning a week later for the International Society of Arboriculture International Tree Climbing Competition and Arbor Fair at Mt. Mary College. The cyclists will overnight at Madison, The Wisconsin Dells, Stevens Point, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Port Washington. Along the way, they'll stop to dedicate dozens of new trees donated and planted by local nurseries.
"In Florida, we are used to reading news of pests and diseases that threaten our beloved urban trees. I am honored to support arborists in their vital research and educational efforts," said Veach.
This will be Veach's first Tour Des Trees and first multi-day group tour, though he has competed in century rides including the Tour de Cape a couple of years ago. He heard about the Wisconsin benefit ride from a good friend that participated last year.
"His passion (about trees) is contagious," said Veach. "He said it was quite a challenge and raised nearly a million dollars towards research into trees and diseases. I enjoy testing myself, and raising money for a good cause gives it more meaning."
The Town's Marine Resources Task Force chairman states he is an avid bicycle commuter as well as a big supporter of bicycles as transportation and recreation. He hopes that the completion of the upcoming Estero Boulevard Improvement Project -one that is expected to offer bicycle lanes on much of the main drag- gets more people pedaling.
"I enjoy seeing all of those people bicycling around our island and hope that the Estero Boulevard project encourages more to get around by bicycle to help alleviate traffic," he said. "I spent 5 1/2 months on a solo bicycle trip in Europe logging over 5,000 miles when I was in my 20s. I went from London to Oslo, Norway to San Sebastian, Spain and down to Rome, Italy. Then, with the help of a couple of ferries, ended up in Jerusalem."
The training process that began in Southwest Florida was difficult because of the heat, says Veach. He did get to ride in Colorado as well.
"Training for a long ride in Florida in the summer was a challenge. I would wake up in the dark and leave the house in the dark to try to beat at least some of the heat. As many locals know, it is cooler early, but it also seems to be more humid. I discovered just how much I can sweat and how hard it is to stay hydrated during several hours on a bike in the Florida summer," he said. "We had a family reunion in Colorado last month, where I grew up, and I took the opportunity to ride up trail ridge road in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a spectacular ride, with big bull moose and herds of elk among some amazing mountain scenery."
The 2014 STIHL Tour des Trees has set its sights on besting last year's event, which raised $600,000 for the TREE Fund. The itinerary changes each year, and recent Tours have explored Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, New York State and Ontario. The ride has been featured on CNN, The Huffington Post and Forbes, along with Women's Health, American Way and Adventure Cyclist.
Professor Elwood Pricklethorn, the Tour's embedded educator and ambassador for the trees, headlines programs for kids in Lake Mills, Sauk City, Nekoosa, New London, Manitowoc and Milwaukee (at the Wisconsin State Fair). Challenging cycling, spectacular scenery and cheese and brats are hallmarks of this Wisconsin Tour. The STIHL Tour des Trees raises the bar with a level of camaraderie that sets it apart from other charity fundraisers.
"I look forward to a good ride with welcome breaks watching Professor Pinkerton help create future tree advocates with his educational shows," said Veach.
Since 1992, the Tour has raised more than $6.6 million for tree research and education programs, funding hundreds of research grants, along with scholarships for aspiring tree care professionals. TREE Fund researchers have helped to quantify the benefits of trees, develop hardier, drought- and disease-resistant species and improve methods for propagating, planting and maintaining strong healthy trees.
The TREE Fund's mission is to support sustainable communities and environmental stewardship by funding research, scholarships and education programs essential to the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry.
The TREE Fund has supported research that has led to important developments in:?1) understanding air pollution reduction and carbon sequestration by trees; 2) determining the costs and benefits of urban trees; 3) improving conditions for tree growth in difficult sites; and 4) strategies to manage diseases and pests that affect urban trees.
For more information, visit www.treefund.org/.
Veach is looking forward to the ride. To support him, go to www.crowdrise.com/TourIndividuals2014/fundraiser/billveach .
"I have been in the area of the ride before. I worked inspecting a pipeline that ran from Milwalkee to Green Bay some years ago," he said. "That was in the middle of winter, and I am looking forward to seeing it in the summer. A bicycle provides a much more intimate pace to witness a place."