Fighting pouring rain and thunderstorms, more than 60 cyclists rode into Druid Hill Park yesterday, completing a 600-mile bike tour to raise money for urban trees.
"I almost feel like this was a defining moment in my life," said Paul Fletcher, an assistant division manger for Bartlett Tree Expert Co. in Connecticut. "It was unbelievable."
The cyclists, many of whom work in forestry, planted trees along the route to draw attention to the importance of urban forestry research. In Druid Hill Park, they placed their final tree with a background of bagpipe music and a blessing of "Grow, tree."
Fletcher said he started the tour as a personal physical challenge but ended with a new perspective and passion for the importance of trees in society.
"I feel as though now I have my name associated with a cause that's important for the entire globe," he said. "Without trees, people don't exist."
The eight-day bike tour, called the Tour des Trees, began July 30 in Williamsburg, Va., and ended yesterday with the cyclists presenting a check for more than $200,000 to the International Society of Arboriculture during the opening ceremonies of its 76th annual meeting, being held this year in Baltimore.
The cyclists from the United States and Canada rode through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington and Maryland - and went through 60 gallons of water a day, said tour coordinator Karl Parker.
"They're demonstrating incredible passion and incredible commitment to this cause," he said. "They're riding through the pouring-down rain to carry the message that trees matter."
Fletcher described the tour as "heaven and hell" because of the beautiful scenery and steep hills. One hill through Skyline Drive in Virginia was a challenge, he said, but he never stopped, thinking, "If I get to the top of the three-mile climb, the ride down will be spectacular."
The annual International Society of Arboriculture conference continues until Wednesday. The nonprofit organization has a mission to protect, preserve and prolong trees' lives, especially those in cities and towns.
At the conference, held at the Baltimore Convention Center, about 1,600 people from around the world will have the opportunity to watch tree-climbing championships and view tree equipment like tree lifts and chippers.
Since 1992, the tour has raised more than $1 million for the organization's urban forestry research. The money goes toward controlling diseases and pests, developing better planting and pruning techniques, and increasing knowledge of genetics and species selection. This year, more than 40 corporate sponsors contributed more than $105,000 to the tour, and each cyclist raised at least $3,000 from other sponsors.
Jim Skiera, the organization's associate executive director, said its research is important to improve the quality of the environment for everyone.
"Urban areas that are green and have trees are better for people," he said.
Parker said tree plantings, such as the ones the cyclists participated in, help educate the public about urban forests. Many people don't know that forests other than the rain forests and the redwood forests are in danger.
"Not so many people know that urban forests require a lot of care and commitment," he said. "A lot of people just take trees for granted. ... But I believe that at events like these, every single person who was here was touched."