Five years ago, on a walk to the playground with his daughter, Evie, Chris Fuchs first found the way to inspire her and other kids in the community to get outside and do something active.
On that walk, Fuchs, 45, of Ellicott City, spoke to Evie in a pretend pirate voice, encouraging her to find imaginary buried treasure around the playground.
Five years later, the entire Fuchs family, including Evie and her brother, Sawyer, are onboard with what is now called HoCo Pirate Adventures, a community-wide pirate-themed scavenger hunt across Howard County. About 4,000 children and their families have traversed mile-long hiking trails searching for treasure. It gained popularity during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, as a safe outdoor activity with natural social distancing opportunities.
Fuchs established HoCo Pirate Adventures as a nonprofit organization in 2021. Families are encouraged to follow directions on a print-it-yourself map, look for clues hidden along the trail, use problem-solving and critical thinking skills to decipher codes and end at a secret treasure chest filled with coins, jewels and small toys.
Fuchs organizes the scavenger hunts on Facebook and on hocopirateadventures.com, posting new hunts at the end of each month. To participate, families are asked to “pay what you can,” with a suggested donation of $5 per family or $20 per group of up to 20 pirates.
Proceeds go to help organize the hunts and purchase the “booty” – prizes at the end of the hunt. Fuchs also donates funds to a number of local charities, such as Columbia Community Care, Hearts and Homes Foster Care, Howard County Community Ecology Institute and the Howard County Food Bank.
Fuchs said he never expected the treasure hunts to become as popular as they have.
“It’s gotten bigger and bigger, and every month we seem to have first-timers that come in and say, ‘This is amazing, why didn’t I know about this before?’” Fuchs said. “I’m taking steps to grow it and get the word out there a little bit more.”
Fuchs said he learned the value of serving the community from his late father, John, who took photographs of neighborhood Christmas lights and posted them online for viewing by those with mobility challenges.
“[HoCo Pirate Adventures] is something that does a lot of good for the community, especially during the pandemic,” he said. “It’s good for families, it’s good for people to get out [and] it’s good for communities.”
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Fuchs’ work recently caught the attention of the Office of the Comptroller of Maryland. Peter Franchot’s office named HoCo Pirate Adventures the Howard County winner of the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award.
Alan Brody, press secretary in the comptroller’s office, said the nonprofit’s effort to donate to local charities is what made it a good recipient for the award.
“[HoCo Pirate Adventures] started more as an activity and once the popularity took off, it became clear that they could do something more with this and they could give back,” Brody said. “Seeing that [Fuchs] was turning a fun activity for his kids that could benefit not just the broader parent community, but helping people in need, that kind of made it a pretty easy target and worthwhile recipient.”
Fuchs said he was “surprised” to have earned the award.
“I didn’t think that we would draw that kind of attention or recognition,” he said. “It was just a fantastic feeling to get recognition at a state level that what we are doing is doing so much good for people.”
He said he hopes the scavenger hunts will continue to bring the community together.
“I just want this to be something that people understand as yet another good reason to live in Howard County,” he said. “[I want] to have this be something that is a point of connection between all of the people that are involved and that it becomes something that they feel as a common point that pulls us all together as a community, as families, as neighbors and as a crew.”