Pedaling for Poplars
Enfield Cyclist About to Embark on 584-Mile Tour des Trees
Bicyclist Jeff Carney, of Enfield, displays his tattoo, the old logo of the Tour des Trees, on his leg before a training ride in Lebanon on Wednesday. Carney departs on Sunday on the latest Tour des Trees, which holds both professional and personal significance for Carney. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Jeff Carney unloads his bike from his car after his work day at the Lebanon office of Liberty Utilities, where he works as a vegetation supervisor. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield’s Jeff Carney heads out on a training ride after work in Lebanon on Wednesday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Jeff Carney’s short career racing bicycles earned him exactly one dollar. His annual ride with thousands of fellow tree enthusiasts generates much more for a good cause.
Carney is preparing for his 11th Tour des Trees, the annual long-distance bike ride serving as a primary fundraiser for the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE), the nation’s largest non-governmental source of funding for educational programs related to arboriculture, the science of cultivating and managing trees.
Carney, 57, is the vegetation supervisor for Lebanon-based Liberty Utilities, overseeing the management of trees along the company’s electrical routes.
Built to culminate each year at the date and site of International Society of Arboriculture’s annual conference — held this year in Toronto on Aug. 3 — the 2013 Tour des Trees will span 584 miles in a counterclockwise path around Lake Ontario.
Beginning in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Sunday, the group of approximately 100 cyclists will cross into New York and go west-to-east along the southern shores of Lake Ontario — the smallest of the five Great Lakes but still the 17th-largest in the world, with a surface area of more than 7,300 square miles — before taking a ferry to Kingston, Ontario, on day No. 4 and trekking east-to-west along the northern shore for the second half of the journey.
Riding approximately 85 miles per day, the group will dine and lodge together and take part in a bevy of tree-planting ceremonies and other festivities along the way. Riders will arrive in Toronto in time for the ISA conference as well as the International Tree Climbing Competition, held in Toronto the same weekend.
Carney, of Enfield, has been hooked on the 22-year-old event since participating in a one-day leg of the event in Maine in 1999. He rode the entire route for each of the next five years — meeting his future wife while en route in 2001 — before a four-year hiatus while pursuing an amateur cycling career.
“That ended up being kind of a lost cause,” said Carney, a Longmeadow, Mass., native who’s called the Upper Valley home since 1987. “I joined the New Hampshire Cycling Club and did a points series they had at New Hampshire International Speedway, and I did the Tuesday night racing series (at Claremont’s Twin State Speedway).
“They had a format at Twin State where the announcer would say something like, ‘Whoever wins the next two laps gets a dollar,’ and I won one of those once. I still have it framed in my office, because it’s the only dollar I ever earned cycling.”
He’s generated a lot more with Tour des Trees, which requires a minimum donation of $3,500 per rider and fields up to 100 riders per year. Since its inception in 1992, the event has generated more than $6 million for the TREE Fund.
It’s a cause worth contributing to for Carney, who sees firsthand how important the maintenance and protection of trees are in communities.
“For safety and service reliability, it’s important to keep dead wood and limbs away from wires, which is part of what I do,” said Carney. “But a lot of people don’t realize how important the presence of trees are, which is why part of this ride is about spreading awareness.
“Aside from providing oxygen and their aesthetic value, they help prevent erosion, they provide shade to cool our homes and they generally increase the economic value of home sites and properties. There are studies out there that have shown that for every dollar spent on planting or maintaining trees, three dollars’ worth of economic benefits are yielded in return.”
Carney has personally benefitted from the event as well, and not only because of the exercise or because he met his future wife, Heather, in Chicago during the Tour des Trees route through the Midwest in 2001. Over the years, he’s seen parts of the U.S. and Canada he likely never would have never visited otherwise.
“It’s been a watershed event for me in so many respects,” he said. “The first time I did the whole ride (2000), it went through the mid-Atlantic and we stopped at a lot of the Civil War (memorial sites) that I probably never would have seen. Another year it was in Seattle, and it was beautiful loop through British Columbia and (Washington’s) Olympic Peninsula. There are just so many parts of the world I would never have seen without this event.”
While the miles can be grueling, cyclists are rewarded along the route with group meals, welcome receptions and tree-planting ceremonies abound along the route. A special tree-planting dedication takes place on the first day of the ride Sunday to honor first responders in West Webster, N.Y., where two firemen were killed in an ambush during an act of arson last year.
Other events en route include a dinner cruise, a mayor’s welcome in the town of Cobourg, Ontario, and a presentation by “Professor Elmwood Pricklethorn,” an entertaining but educational character played by Toronto Island Parks supervisor Warren Hoselton.
“There’s an element of fanfare and celebration, and you meet a lot of great people in my industry,” he said. “You get to support a very important resource and have a great time.”
In other words, it’s worth every dollar.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.