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RAGBRAI rider thanks cities with trees

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Veteran RAGBRAI rider Dave Cooney of Mason City, middle, thanks Iowa cities hosting overnight stays for the annual July event by planting a tree in each community. Here, Cooney is flanked by Cherokee Bomgaars Manager Jim Nelson, left, and Cherokee Mayor Mark Murphy during the tree planting in Cherokee July 22. Photo by Mike Leckband
Planting trees is veteran RAGBRAI rider Dave Cooney's way of giving back each year to the communities hosting the approximate 25,000 participants overnight.

Cooney, 58, of Muscatine, Iowa, has been riding in RAGBRAI for 15 years now, and in 2005 he began his own personal tradition of planting a tree in each of the towns where riders stay overnight.

He got the idea while talking to a cousin from Coralville the year the event -- officially known as the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa -- passed through that city.

His cousin explained how much work a town and its various volunteers go through in preparing for the thousands of riders, everything from making sure the pavement is in good repair to coordinating food vendors, booking entertainment, developing camping grounds, arranging massive clean-up the next day, producing a local, informative RAGBRAI newspaper supplement, etc.

So "what better way to thank the cities than to plant a 'thank you' tree?" Cooney said. "We (RAGBRAI) leave behind a lot of trash."

His other motivation is that he is "absolutely in love with the state of Iowa" and wants to give back.

The first couple of years, Cooney secured sponsorship for the trees and accompanying plaques through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. When that ended, he paid for them himself. In the past six years, the tree-planting has received financial backing from the Melon City Bicycle Club, of which Cooney is a member.

According to Cooney, the cost is $700 to $800 each year, depending upon how many trees have to be purchased.

Cooney pays for the trees beforehand and, in coordination with the involved city officials, gets a pre-determined planting location as well as assurances that shovels, mulch, water and the trees will appear at the agreed-upon planting time.

"I start in March, then get everything done in the last two weeks," he explained.

In Cherokee, Cooney worked with the city and Bomgaars Manager Jim Nelson to select the tree and the site for its planting.

After this year, he will have planted about 70 trees. Most go in parks; other locations are schools, boulevards, baseball fields and courthouse lawns.

The tree planted July 22 in Cherokee is located in the greenspace just west of the Cherokee Horse Arena off U.S. Highway 59, northeast of the Little Sioux River bridge

By day, Cooney is an electrician at Monsanto Company. His previous acts of athletic prowess include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in the African nation of Tanzania and Mount Whitney in California.

Up next? Hiking from the north rim to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, a distance of 22 miles, over Labor Day.

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