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Maryland man starts 200-plus mile paddleboard trek from Havre de Grace Friday to raise funds, awareness for oysters

Chris Hopkinson, right, will paddle the length of the Chesapeake Bay, launching from Havre de Grace, starting Friday.
Chris Hopkinson, right, will paddle the length of the Chesapeake Bay, launching from Havre de Grace, starting Friday. (ORP / HANDOUT)

Early Friday morning in Havre de Grace, Chris Hopkinson will be one of a few people down by the water near the Concord Point Lighthouse to kick off the Bay Paddle, a nine-day, 240-mile paddleboard trip down the Chesapeake Bay that is set to end in Virginia Beach on Sept. 26.

The trip puts Hopkinson atop a stand-up paddleboard and the reason, to raise awareness and more importantly funds for the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

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Hopkinson, 46, is an Arnold resident and he has no involvement with Oyster Recovery — "I’m just a normal guy,” he said — but came up with the idea for the Bay Paddle.

So, then why would Hopkinson, a self-described novice on the paddleboard, even consider such a feat?

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“I saw an oyster recovery video, they had two tanks side-by-side, one filled with oysters and they time-lapsed it and it just showed how quickly and how effective the oysters were at cleaning the water," he said.

“I had no idea that a single oyster filtered 50 gallons of water per day, so I heard about that and I reached out to Oyster Recovery and kind of said, 'Hey look, I’m a believer right, the oyster population is down 99%, the bay’s health is declining, it seems to me it’s related. If we had more oysters in the bay, they’ll drain 50 gallons of water per oyster.

"The bay would be in a much better place and I really want to do anything I can to support the work that you’re doing. What do you think about this crazy idea of paddling the bay to bring awareness and financial support,’ ” Hopkinson said.

He’s trying to raise about $200,000 for the Oyster Recovery Partnership. "We’re close to $125,000 right now, which is amazing, given everything that’s going on,” Hopkinson said Tuesday.

The trip has been planned for a time when the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership’s major in-person fundraisers have been postponed because of coronavirus –– a fundraiser with hundreds in attendance isn’t possible because large gatherings are banned to protect public health.

Spokeswoman Karis King previously called it, "a COVID-safe way to fundraise.”

Over the past two decades, ORP has planted more than 8.5 billion oysters in the bay, which provide habitat for other creatures and also filter nitrogen out of the water, which they use to grow.

Hopkinson said he’s only been paddleboarding for about six years.

“It sounds even more terrible when I start explaining it, like my age, my experience,” he said. “My wife gave me a paddleboard six years ago, really to just get me out of the house, I think, and it worked.”

Despite living on the water, Hopkinson said he never spent a lot of time out there until he got his paddleboard.

“I was just getting on the water, with kids, putzing around. Most people around here, most of us don’t have a boat, so the water’s beautiful and it’s awesome, but very few of us actually have access to it," he said.

“Paddleboarding was the first time I had access,” he said. “It wasn’t until I came up with this crazy idea that I really started to get into, alright, I need to train to paddle 30 miles a day, which I did, starting last summer doing a 30-mile race. And then all this year, prepping for what’s going to start on Friday.”

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The promotion says the trip is 240 miles, but Hopkinson says the number could change “depending on the route and conditions. [But] 200 plus miles for sure."

The trip will have Hopkinson paddleboarding about 30 to 35 miles per day. Friday’s first 30 to 35 miles will land him at the mouth of the Patapsco River. The faster Hopkinson can trek the daily distance, the more time he will have to recover before getting up to start another day.

Wind, water movement and river entrances to the bay could alter direction of travel and time.

“For the general public, the message is that a $10 donation plants 1,000 oysters. So, a $10 donation goes a long way,” Hopkinson said. “A thousand oysters can have a huge impact on the bay, so I’m really trying to get as many people as possible to donate at least 10 dollars.”

For persons interested in donating, go to baypaddle.org website or text “baypaddle” to 44321. Trip updates, money and oyster total updates, pictures, quotes and some educational content can be found daily at the baypaddle.org website.

Hopkinson will be filmed during the trip, and will also wear a camera to give people a paddler’s eye view of the bay. He wants to show off the environment as well as historical places of importance along the bay, including Annapolis and Naval Station Norfolk.

Baltimore Sun Media reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this article.

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