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Horticulture instructor cycles more than 500 miles for tree education and research

Kristina Bezanson is at home on a bike.

The Tidewater Community College horticulture instructor, will cycle more than 500 miles in a week in Florida to fund education and research for the TREE Fund. She hopes to raise $3,500 during the STIHL Tour des Trees by biking from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale. “I do this to motivate my students and show them that they can do hard things, too,” Bezanson said.

She has cycled that distance four of the last five years to raise money for the TREE Fund, which has generated more than $7.2 million in funding for research projects and educational programs for budding tree care professionals.

“I ride for trees because I love my family, friends and my students, and I realize that, without trees, we wouldn’t have a healthy planet,” Bezanson said. “Trees are one of the oldest living organisms on earth and they improve human health, real estate values and elevate moods.”

Bezanson, who holds a master’s degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech, says that without scholarships from groups such as the Tree Fund, she would not have been able to complete her advanced degree. “This is my way of giving back. I don’t ever want one of my students to be held back from pursuing their dreams.”

In total, the 2015 Tour hopes to raise more than $625,000, with riders traversing the Sunshine State with stops in Ruskin, Sarasota, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers Beach, Everglades City and Miami, plus brief visits with surrounding communities. The Tour concludes Oct. 31 in Fort Lauderdale.

The STIHL Tour des Trees itinerary includes community engagement activities, tree plantings and educational programs.

Bezanson is dedicating this year’s ride to Bonnie Lee Appleton, a Norfolk native and professor emerita of horticulture at Virginia Tech. She would like to help launch a memorial scholarship fund in Appleton’s name. “Bonnie was my instructor at Tech and later became a mentor and friend,” Bezanson said. “I’m riding for her because there’s still so much we don’t know about trees.”

The STIHL Tour des Trees has other benefits for Bezanson and her students. “One of the best parts of the program is cycling and talking with other professors and researchers. I get to hear about cool projects and bring what I learn back to my students. It’s amazing to be with others with similar interests – we become a tree family of sorts.”