DUNEDIN — Twenty-five years ago, a simple "no" from a hardware store clerk inspired Dr. Garland Forbes.
Forbes wanted to buy a piece of maple or oak for a furniture project. The clerk said he had none to sell. Curious, Forbes asked why. When the clerk said hardwood had been cut down 150 years ago and never replanted to replenish the supply, Forbes couldn't believe his ears.
"I knew someday if I had an opportunity to get involved with replenishing the forest, I would," said Forbes, a dentist who specializes in root canal treatments at his Dunedin and New Port Richey offices.
Five years ago, the 67-year-old Dunedin resident took up the challenge to help re-establish indigenous forests of hard pines that once covered Florida.
Through the Plant 1,000 Trees Before You Die program, coordinated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Forbes buys seedlings at $70 per thousand. He gives away the first-generation longleaf pine trees.
"What's most important to me is for people to look and see that they have a responsibility to nurture the planet," Forbes said.
He did just that Friday at Pioneer Park. From a booth nestled among vendors selling homemade salsas, displaying fresh produce and offering holiday treats at the Green Market, Forbes gave away pine seedlings.
"It's always good when someone gives back to the community," said Richard Kendler, Green Market manager.
Forbes' office manager, Hilde Riordan, 41, of Port Richey, handed out 2,000 of the 10- to 16-inch seedlings. Forbes spoke to passersby on the Main Street sidewalk and invited them to take home a tree.
When people agreed they wanted to plant and care for the seedling, Riordan delicately wrapped it in newspaper creating a cone around the needles and roots for protection. With each tree came instructions for planting, watering and proper care.
Some people asked for one. Others wanted more. Mary Ann Smith said she could use half a dozen seedlings to plant on her 4 acres in Old Palm Harbor.
"This is such a great idea," Smith said. "These are nice pines, too."
"We don't set a limit on how many people can have, as long as they plant and nurture the trees," Forbes said.
The original plan was to distribute 1,000 seedlings Friday, but Forbes decided to bring 2,000 instead. Within three hours or so, the seedlings were all gone.
That brings to 16,000 the number of seedlings he's distributed in five years.
Last week, Forbes handed out 2,000 seedlings at the New Port Richey Public Library.
Last year, he donated seedlings to Curtis Fundamental Elementary School in Dunedin for students to plant. Forbes also worked with the Boy Scouts, who planted 250 trees in James E. Grey Preserve in Pasco County.
Forbes intends to present Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers with an environmentally friendly city award at the January Dunedin City Commission meeting. But Friday the recognition went to Forbes as people smiled, shook his hand and walked away with their seedlings gently tucked under their arms.
Anna Spanolios of Tarpon Springs arrived about 8:30 a.m. and stood in front of the Pioneer Park band shell waiting for the seedlings to arrive.
"We have sandy property and the pines grow so well," Spanolios said. "We want to plant more. I love that he's giving away trees."
Forbes has been recognized for his tree efforts. In 2008, Rep. Gus Bilirakis presented remarks entered in the Congressional Record on Forbes' work with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters in 2005, the United Way in 2006 and overall as an example of the difference one individual can make in the community.
And he's not done yet.
"If every able-bodied person would plant 1,000 trees," Forbes said, "we could reforest North America in less than 100 years."