Every year since 1992, a team of intrepid tree-loving cyclists has gathered for Tour des Trees, a week-long trek to raise money for the TREE Fund, which supports research and education to help keep urban trees beautiful and healthy.

"The first tour started with 13 people," says Mary DiCarlo, fund development specialist for the TREE Fund. "They were as passionate about trees as they were about biking." That first event was a 1,000-mile journey from Seattle to Oakland, Calif., that raised $89,000.

Last year, when Tour des Trees trekked around the Chicago area, the group raised more than $440,000. This year cyclists hope to raise more than $500,000. The costs of the event are covered by corporate sponsors, including this year's returning title sponsor, STIHL Inc.

This year's Tour starts Oct. 2 in Virginia Beach, Va., with a one-day, 30-mile event called Ride for Research. This awareness event will include tree plantings at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Research Center and First Landing State Park.

After that, the real journey begins: a seven-day, 500-mile trip from Virginia Beach, Va., to Washington, D.C.

DiCarlo says an average of 65 to 70 riders participate in the tour, many of whom have been riding for years. "Two-thirds of our riders are veterans of the event, and they come back as often as they can. They consider it their 'tree family' and can't wait to see everyone again and to ride 500 miles in a week."

Each rider commits to raising at least $3,500. Some participants only do part of the tour and raise at least $600 for each day they ride. "Most of the riders are connected to trees in some way professionally, or they just love trees," says DiCarlo.

In addition to new riders, Tour des Trees needs volunteers and donors who can choose to sponsor individual cyclists.

DiCarlo says the money raised will go toward vital tree research. "The threats to trees are growing and evolving, but the solutions don't evolve at the same pace. New research is critical to keep new knowledge coming into the industry." With many other sources of research funding shrinking or drying up, DiCarlo says the TREE Fund has become "a major go-to source for research funding for arboriculture and horticulture."

This year's Tour des Trees will culminate with a closing ceremony at American University in Washington, D.C. Mother Nature Network co-founder, tree farmer and musician Chuck Leavell will speak at the Oct. 8 event.

"It's been an honor and a pleasure for me to have supported the Tour Des Trees over the past few years," says Leavell. "It's also been a lot of fun, and the guys and gals that organize the tour and all the riders are just amazing folks. They all sincerely care about the health of trees throughout our country and have supported some really important research that has benefited our trees and forests."