TREE CEO sorry for missing Mount Airy

To the Editor,

A group of experienced cyclists on the road functions like a single nervous system.

Each rider, like a sensory cell, continually assesses stimuli to ensure the entire organism remains safe, evaluating proximity to other riders, group speed, cars, pedestrians, road hazards, surface conditions, pending turns, and myriad other factors. Those signals then pass up and down the line through a system of verbal and hand signals, those behind shouting to alert those in front, those in the lead signaling to those behind. When the group is moving quickly, these signals often result in split second decisions that impact the entire line, especially when it is closely packed.

Sometimes, however, false signals are acquired and passed up and down the line, which then goes astray, oftentimes fairly far afield. Barring accident or injury, such errors usually result in little more than a missed rest stop or some extra miles at the end of the day. In those cases, the only hurt is to riders themselves, who might go thirsty or hungry or require other assistance to get to their scheduled destination.

On Monday, October 11, however, such a group error caused a much greater hurt, to the good people and leaders of Munt Airy, the Southern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), numerous corporate partners, and staff members and volunteers of the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund.

This group had gathered to plant a tree and celebrate Mount Airy’s wonderful hospitality toward 120 riders and support team members who had ridden in from Charlotte the day before on the STIHL Tour des Trees. After a brief and confused scrum while rolling just outside of the event location, the “group mind” made a wrong decision that propagated down the line, causing the riders to miss the event, and putting them miles past the scheduled destination in a widely diffused pack before the error was realized. (“Cyclists miss turn, and event,” October 10, Mount Airy News).

As one of the riders in the middle of that pack, I can objectively offer that matter-of-fact explanation as to what happened, first hand. There was no malice nor disrespect intended. But i am also the president and CEO of the TREE Fund, and in that capacity, I can offer no excuses whatsoever to Mount Airy for this missed opportunity and miscommunication. The success or failure of our endeavors is ultimately my own responsibility, and the buck stops on my desk (and on my bicycle saddle) for our failure to return the extraordinary courtesy that Mount Airy extended to us all.

I offer my deepest apology for this error, even as I know that no after-the-fact words can erase the hurt, confusion, and disappointment of that morning. I can work to tweak systems in the future to reduce the likelihood of such an incident ever happening again, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened last Monday, and that was a grave injustice to Mount Airy, Southern Chapter of ISA, our corporate partners, staff and volunteers.

I returned home to Chicago today after the completion of the Tour, seven days after we left Mount Airy. While I reflect on what was a very complex and successful event on paper and in the financial ledgers, my heart remains heavy about the one real-time detail I missed until it was too late for me to fix it, depriving Mount Airy of the credit and recognition that you so deeply deserved.

I look forward to having the opportunity to return to your wonderful city soon, and to standing by the tree that you planted for us, quietly reflecting on the warmth of your people and what you did for us that day. I suspect other riders will do the same. What you did matters. It truly does.

J. Eric Smith

President and CEO


Chicago, Illinois

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