Steve Parker grew up camping and climbing trees in the woods of North Carolina.
Over the years he's kept that love of the environment. Outside of his job as Howard County's Bureau of Highways superintendent of operations, Parker, 63, is a member of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. He regularly speaks at local schools to share his passion for trees.
"It's a great life, if you do it right," he said.
Last weekend, Parker finished his ninth STIHL Tour des Trees, an annual weeklong bike ride that raises money for the TREE Fund, which provides scientific research and education programs related to urban forestry and arboriculture.
This year's 585-mile event was held July 28 to Aug. 3, running from Niagara Falls in upstate New York through Ontario and finishing in Toronto. The event, in its 22nd year, raised more than $500,000.
Parker found out about the ride in 2005 and joined, realizing how much he approved of the tour's mission. He kept coming back each year.
"Each rider has to raise a certain amount of money, and I felt like it was an easy way for me to give something back to the community," Parker said. "I know the money's going to a good place.
"We're one big family out here. You see a lot of the same group of 40 to 50 riders every year, and it's just a lot of fun. It's a lot of people who really care about the environment and the industry and want to do something to give back."
One of those riders Parker came across on the tour was Indianapolis resident Tom Ordway. They met in 2005 and have been roommates each year. Outside of the Tour des Trees, though, they rarely see each other, which to them makes the ride even more special.
"We just happened to buddy up that year, and for a lot of the ride we rode together because we were in the same shape, [around] the same age and the same pace," Ordway, 54, said. "It was a great ride, and we have been friends ever since. I do this for the same reason he does: to give back in some way."
Parker talked about his love for the environment with the same passion as he had many years ago. He still actively pursues donations, too, raising $3,860 for this year's Tour des Trees.
And he'll do it all over again next year, too.
"I think, today, we look around and there are so many trees being cut down and new developments [being built]," Parker said. "I'm just trying to help the situation by raising as much money and planting as many trees in the right locations as we can."
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