NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Kristin Wild, a communications specialist for Asplundh Tree Expert Company became involved in helping promote the Stihl Tour des Trees in 2000, she had no idea that just three years later, she would also ride the trail with experienced cyclists.

"If anyone had told me 14 years ago that I could pedal over 100 miles per day and still help with our educational events, I wouldn't have believed them," says Wild, now 54 years old.

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Wild is just one of 98 riders who will be heading out from Niagara Falls, N.Y. this Saturday, July 27, on a weeklong, 585-mile ride that will end in Toronto, Ontario at the International Society of Arboriculture conference.

The 21-year-old ride was created by the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) to unite cyclists and arborists to raise money for urban tree research and to bring awareness to the plight of urban trees.

The TREE Fund's literature says that most urban trees only have an average lifespan of about ten years, but the benefits of having trees in our environment is also a necessity for our survival. Trees provide oxygen, clean the air, assist in storm water runoff, shade our homes and provide beauty, which provides a mental health benefit.

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Trees also may provide an economic benefit to homeowners. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, having mature trees on your property may increase your home value up to 10% and having trees shading your home may reduce your summer utility bills by up to 3%.

Janet Bornancin, president and CEO of the TREE Fund, says raising money for research is important so that companies working with urban tree care have the tools necessary to preserve urban trees. "Trees are really taken for granted in urban areas," says Bornancin. "They're assaulted by pavement and need science based research in order to survive."

One of the recently-awarded grants was $10,000 to Chicago's Morton Arboretum, where an international team of scientists collaborated with NASA engineers utilizing NASA technology to identify areas of weakness in trees and more accurately predict the likelihood of breakage or failure under stress.

The tour has raised more than $5 million since it began. This year, the foundation's goals are to raise $600,000.

The Tour Provides Many Benefits to Riders

Many of the sponsors for the tour, such as Asplundh and Stihl, a power tool company and the main corporate sponsor for the tour, are involved in the tree industry in some way. Anita Gambill, public relations specialist for Stihl, says her company is involved because it not only provides research for trees and safer work practices in the industry, which benefits many of their customers, but also because they believe in the mission of the TREE Fund.

"This tour benefits anyone who breathes the air that trees preserve," says Gambill. "Stihl is dedicated to socially responsible environmental stewardship."

Bornancin says there are also other company sponsors not directly involved in the tree industry, such as Ford Motor Company, because, she says, many companies outside of the industry recognize that trees benefit us all.

However, the ride is all about the vitality of the trees, and most of the riders have some connection to the industry or have an interest in the environment. Events along the route allow the riders to participate in community service and educational projects. This year, for example, the riders will stop in Rochester, New York to learn how the city is protecting its trees from the Emerald Ash Borer. They'll also make a pit-stop and at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry for a lecture on the university's American chestnut research program.

While the focus of the tour is the trees and tree research, the tour also has a side benefit to riders. They must raise a minimum of $3,500 in sponsorships to participate in the ride. In addition to their financial sponsorship, much of which some of the riders donate themselves, they also get to participate in community related events such as tree planting and dedications along the route.

This year, one of the tree dedications will be to the two fallen firefighters in Webster, New York, who were gunned down in an ambush as they responded to a house fire just before Christmas last year.

Wild, who describes herself as a "serious" but not "hard core" bicyclist, says the ride is always a mixture of young cyclists and the "young at heart." Wild says the ride definitely earned its nickname as the "party on bikes," as she says it is like a family reunion because so many of the riders return to the event each year.

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Wild describes herself as a "back peddler," or one of the riders who typically stays at the back of the pack. "This isn't a race, but there are still riders who ride in a pace line and I will do that sometimes," says Wild. "But I also like to see the scenery...There is nothing like seeing the countryside from the speed of a bike, it is so different from seeing it from a car or a bus."

For a full map of the tour, as well as information on how to donate or become involved next year, go to the website.

--Written by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell for MainStreet