Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hitting the Streets to Get Cash for Trees

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hitting the Streets to Get Cash for Trees

Article excerpt

TOUR DE NORTH PORT: Bike ride aims to raise funds for arboreal classroom

NORTH PORT

Alice White envisions Sarasota County as one day having a nature center where children can learn in the treetops, and she is lobbying officials to help make that vision a reality.

The TreeWiz interactive discovery center is the ambitious concept of People for Trees Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group based in North Port and chaired by White. The group wants to create a unique setting in pine flatwoods, where children and adults can learn about the environment while exploring treehouses and canopy walkways.

"You see the world differently when you're up there," White said.

The center would cost at least several hundred thousand dollars and, of course, money does not grow on trees.

On Sunday, the group is holding its third annual Tour de North Port bicycle ride through city streets to raise money for the project. About 300 to 400 cyclists are expected to participate, about double the turnout in previous years, White said.

The first two tours raised a total of $10,000. Though there are no design plans yet, White estimates the center could cost up to $300,000, plus at least $150,000 for the treehouses and canopy walks, and another $15,000 for a miniature train that would travel a nature trail.

The center would include interactive displays and models, and also serve as the home for the group's Eco-Kids Club and other educational programs.

People for Trees' first priority is to secure land before pursuing grants and other funding, White said.

The group approached the county to discuss a possible partnership or other arrangement to find three to five acres, perhaps at an existing county-owned site, said Amy Meese, the county's general manager of natural resources.

"It's difficult to raise money for a concept," White said. "When we have that site in place, people can identify it and they're more interested in giving money for it. …

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