Tree lover targets kids in campaign

BIG PLANS FOR LITTLE SPROUTS

April 20, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

CRESAPTOWN -- Tim Womick, environmentalist, vegetarian and amateur runner, beat an African drum, threw energy bars at tree-friendly children and planted a white oak in the school yard.

From Cresaptown Elementary School -- five miles south of Cumberland -- Mr. Womick yesterday began blazing a "Trail of Trees" through Western Maryland. It's a journey that will cover 169 miles in Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties in 12 days.

Along the way, Mr. Womick, a 34-year-old part-time caterer from Cashiers, N.C., will plant offspring of Maryland's famous and historic Wye Oak and talk about trees. He will leave behind books on trees and materials for leaf compost- ing.

His efforts are sponsored by nonprofit and education groups, including the USDA Forest Service and Global ReLeaf, an American Forestry Association program designed to educate the public about trees.

"Each one of these little people can do something to make TC difference," Mr. Womick told Allegany County educators and politicians. "They can plant a tree, they can start a mulch pile, they can recycle, they can pick up trash."

But his message is more than one of just being green. It's also one of being lean. Mr. Womick is running eight to 22 miles a day along the C&O Canal as he blazes his trail through the state.

"If I didn't run it would drain me," Mr. Womick said. "It refuels me for these tasks and sets an example for schoolchildren. It commands respect in a weird sort of way."

A recovered alcoholic and drug abuser, Mr. Womick began running and planting trees about three years ago in North Carolina. He began running to regain control of his life. He began planting trees to make the running worthwhile.

Since then, he's planted some 50,000 trees in North and South Carolina, Virginia, New York and Florida. After leaving Maryland, he will run and plant trees in Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

Mr. Womick doesn't count trees anymore. He counts schoolchildren, who become caretakers of the trees he leaves behind. So far, Mr. Womick has spoken to more than 250,000 schoolchildren.

About 625 students heard his message at Cresaptown yester- day.

"Do you think I'm crazy?" he asked them during a morning assembly. "I am crazy. I'm crazy about trees! Trees! Trees! Trees!"

During a frenzied 30 minutes, Mr. Womick stressed Earth's fragile environment, why children should keep physically fit by eating right and not using drugs, and why they should learn.

"Do you wanna be cool?" he asked. "It doesn't matter what kind of hair you got. Or what kind of shoes you're wearing. Carry a dictionary. I kept one by my bed and learned a new word every night."

Most of Mr. Womick's message, though, concerned trees. He pressed students to tell him "why trees are groovy." When they told him trees provide oxygen or shade or wood products, he tossed them energy bars.

He challenged them, too.

"I challenge each and every one one of you to do like I do," he said. "Jump-start yourself and do something good for the environment."

The message was not lost on Laura Rotella, a third-grader. "He's a little crazy," she said, noting that Mr. Womick made her talk to the 2-year-old white oak before its planting. "But trees are important. Maybe my family will plant some more trees. Maybe we will recycle more newspapers."

Mr. Womick's trail began in one of the state's most forested counties, an irony that was not lost on some.

"He's starting out in pretty friendly territory," said state Sen. John Hafer, R-Allegany. "People here don't take trees for granted. We have them and appreciate them. There are other counties where they're tearing up trees for roads and development -- it's too bad he can't be there."

Mr. Womick said he chose Western Maryland because he wanted to run along the C&O Canal and not along congested and polluted roads.

Bernie Zlomek, a project manager with the state Department of Natural Resources forest division, said about 70 percent of Allegany County is forested. About 42 percent of Maryland is forested with 150 different tree species, DNR officials said.

"We're blessed here," he said. "I'd like to think we're aware of that. But I do think people take the trees and the beauty for granted. You need to stop and see how lucky you are."

He said Mr. Womick's message was particularly important for children. "At this age, they're vulnerable to new ideas and philosophies," he said. "It's important to let them know how important trees are and how delicate the environment is. They're the future land owners."

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