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Volunteers participate in a ReTREEt America planting project in Joplin, Mo.

A Twist of Fate

May 24, 2013

Mother Nature's temperamental episode in the suburbs of Oklahoma City earlier this week wreaked havoc on the surrounding community - unfortunately at the cost of many lives, homes and properties.

Victims of Monday's Moore, Okla., tornado are in our thoughts and prayers. But as the gradual recovery process begins, we'd like to offer a sense of hope; an example of goodwill that may present a brighter future to those who experienced the severe weather.

Weekend ReTREEt. Natural disasters can't match the hard work of a fleet of cyclists armed with shovels, determined to make a difference in the lives of victims who have lost so much.

The forest fire damage Dallas, Texas, experienced last year prompted a group of Tour des Trees participants to develop ReTREEt America, a group of bicycle and tree enthusiasts who follow natural disasters and facilitate re-plantings within the U.S. and Canada. ReTREEt, established in January 2012, also pairs local bike rides with its planting events to raise awareness of its efforts.

ReTREEt America planting
Volunteers participate in a ReTREEt America planting project in Joplin, Mo.

After the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo., Davey Resource Group Project Developer Josh Behounek, a Missouri resident, knew he wanted to help out the Joplin community in some way. When he discovered ReTREEt, which had visited six other natural disaster sites in 2012, Behounek decided to help organize a ReTREEt project in Joplin. The bike ride involved was simply an added incentive.

Behounek, who has participated in Tour des Trees three times, enjoyed every aspect of the event. "The name of the event is perfect - we truly had a full weekend retreat of fun and goodwill," Behounek says. "We rode bikes, planted trees, touched the lives of tornado victims and had the opportunity to better understand how much they went through."

During Saturday's planting event, approximately 45 volunteers from regions across the U.S. and Canada planted trees within the property lines of residents who had lost all their trees and/or homes in the tornado. "We planted three to four trees in each yard - a little more than 200 trees in total," Behounek explains. Volunteers planted a variety of native Missouri trees, including red, bur and white oaks, as well as flowering trees, such as red bud.

"We could tell the homeowners really appreciated the trees we planted," Behounek recalls. And despite their unfortunate situation, local families and their neighbors pulled together to support the then recent victims of Hurricane Sandy, which had torn through the upper East Coast just days before the ReTREEt event in Joplin. "A local family had organized a yard sale and lemonade stand to raise money for Sandy victims while we were planting," Behounek says.

ReTREEt America cyclists
Behounek (third from right, back row) joins a fleet of nearly 10 other cyclists who participated in Joplin's ReTREEt America planting project, as well as a 70-mile, Sunday morning bike ride to conclude the weekend. | Photo: ReTREEt America

After planting 210 total trees in Joplin, volunteers and local homeowners gathered for a party that Saturday evening. "It was nice to relax and have time to socialize with everyone after the plantings," Behounek says. He and 9 other volunteers woke the following morning to begin a 70-mile bike ride around Joplin. "The bike ride was perfect," he says, adding, "I enjoyed the scenery, the people and the atmosphere."

Although the tornadoes our nation has encountered within the past year alone have cost us so much, including people, properties and possessions victims may never get back, volunteers such as those involved with ReTREEt America may provide some solace, perhaps merely one tree at a time.

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