Paddling to Protect the Chesapeake Bay

If traversing the length of the Chesapeake Bay under your own power is a bucket list item, this August is an opportunity to join like-minded paddling enthusiasts while raising critical funds for the health of the country’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay Paddle, the brainchild of Chris Hopkinson, is expected to attract paddlers from the East Coast for this epic multi-day journey starting on August 27 from Rock Hall. A Naptown native, Chris has successfully generated interest among paddlers to successfully raise critical funds to benefit the Bay while partaking in a wonderful adventure.

In 2015, Chris was a recreational boarder paddling a few miles at a time on the Bay and its tributaries. He usually had his child perched on the front of the board. “It was more of a swim platform, really,” he jokes.

Growing up so close to the Bay, Chris was a father before he realized the dire circumstances for both the Chesapeake Bay and its oysters. The third largest estuary in the world, his awareness of the Chesapeake’s health became a huge concern of Chris’ after he and his daughter did an experiment with oysters. Together they watched over a four-hour period how the oysters nearly cleared a murky a tank of water from the Magothy River. Chris was astounded and vowed to do something to help the plight of the oyster, which has reached critical mass in recent decades.

“We hear the reports on the state of the Bay, but most of us don’t know what we can do. My thought was to put more oysters in the Bay and let the Bay heal itself,” explained Chris.

A software salesman, Chris morphed into an environmental crusader. His goal was to be the first person to travel by SUP (stand up paddleboard) down the entire length of the Bay to raise awareness of and money for the Bay. He trained for the trip then, amid the COVID shutdowns of 2020, Chris set out on a grueling, albeit exhilarating, trip down the Bay.

On the first day, nothing went to plan. Temperatures plummeted from 80 to 50 and the winds kicked up. Nearly postponing, he decided to forge ahead. Chris paddled for nine days and covered 207 miles, raising an incredible $193,000.

Worn down from the elements and the physicality of the voyage, Chris was about two miles from the Atlantic Ocean when a pod of dolphins emerged. They disappeared under his board, only to remerge, jumping energetically out of the water. “It was an awesome way to wrap up such a grueling event. It was an almost spiritual experience and made me more devoted to protect the Bay.”

He vowed to keep the momentum going and created the Chesapeake Bay Paddle. Nearly 100 paddlers participated in 2021. Chris transitioned from paddler to planner, tasked with the monumental details of orchestrating the event and keeping the paddlers safe. Chris confesses that it’s a lot more work planning the event than paddling in it.

Paddlers may sign up as individuals or in a team for one of two paddles. The Bay Paddle 150 leaves from Rock Hall and travels 150 miles to Cape Charles, Virginia, in five days. The Bay Paddle 45 leaves from Rock Hall and travels 45 miles to Cambridge in two days. Vessels may include SUP, OC (ocean SUP), kayak, canoe, surf ski, and one-, two-, and six-person outrigger canoes.

There is no registration fee, but participants are the key to raising money. Many prefer to paddle in a relay fashion, with paddlers tackling a one-day paddle rather than the entire distance. Stopovers include such Eastern Shore locations as Tilghman Island, Hoopers Island, Crisfield, and Harborton, Virginia.

Chris is arranging overnight accommodations, anything from outdoor camping to motels, as well as meals. It’s his hope that these communities will host such events as a potluck supper for the paddlers when they arrive to each stopover.

Chris said, “Very few people have ever travelled the length of the Bay on any vessel much less on a 14’ paddleboard. It was an unforgettable experience. I was in some of the most spectacular and remote parts of the Bay, areas most boats can’t get to because of the depth. I felt like an explorer navigating uncharted territory. I decided very soon after I needed to keep the Bay Paddle going and grow it. More people should experience the same journey and more needs to be done to protect our national treasure. That’s the mission of the Bay Paddle.”

The Bay Paddle supports the Oyster Recovery Partnership to plant more oysters, Chesapeake Conservancy to support efforts to designate the Bay as a National Park, and Waterkeepers Chesapeake to help keep the waters and rivers of the Bay healthy.

The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) is the nonprofit expert in Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration. ORP helps restore the Bay’s native oyster population by building sanctuary reefs, rebuilding public fishery reefs, supporting the aquaculture industry, recycling oyster shell, and getting the public involved through hands-on volunteering and events.

Chesapeake Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Annapolis, is pushing for the Chesapeake Bay to be the next national park. This team of conservation entrepreneurs believe that the Chesapeake is a national treasure that should be accessible for everyone and a place where wildlife can thrive. They use technology to enhance the pace and quality of conservation, and help build parks, trails and public access sites.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake fights for clean water and a healthy environment by supporting Waterkeepers throughout the Chesapeake and coastal regions as they protect their communities, rivers, and streams from pollution.

For additional information, visit baypaddle.org or email Chris Hopkinson at chris@baypaddle.org.

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