Hundreds of Paddlers Rally at Inner Harbor for Clean Water

The second annual Baltimore Floatilla for a Healthy Harbor brought a simple message to Baltimore: FUND THE BAY.

A flotilla is traditionally defined as a fleet of ships, especially small war ships. But this "floatilla" is fighting for clean water at the harbor and in the Chesapeake Bay.

Kayaks, canoes and standup paddleboards traveled a five-mile course from the Canton Waterfront Park to the Inner Harbor and back. But before they turned around, the watercraft all gathered for a floating rally at Harborplace, next to the USS Constellation.

The band Tongue in Cheek played Chesapeake Bay-themed jazz tunes, and even Mr. Trash Wheel, the giant wheel that collects litter flowing down from the Jones Falls, floated over for the occasion.

Leaders from Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Bluewater Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation all addressed the group, stressing the importance of federal support for Bay restoration.

Under President Donald Trump's current budget proposal, the entire Chesapeake Bay cleanup fund would be cut. That's a $73 million fund that pays for scientists to study the Bay and restore it back to health.

"I've never understood why it is that we have to fight for clean water," said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Bluewater Baltimore executive director Jenn Aiosa urged the crowd of 300, "Take your passion for being out here today to your elected officials." 

Aiosa said the goal of the Baltimore Floatilla is to remind decision-makers at the city, state and federal level, "There are a lot of people who care about what the federal government is proposing to do."

Adam Lindquist, Director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative for Waterfront Partnership, says that defunding the Bay poses the biggest threat possible, to his organization's efforts.

The Healthy Harbor Initiative and Bluewater Baltimore have an ambitious goal: to make the harbor swimmable by 2020. Lindquist and Aiosa say there is reason for optimism, and parts of the harbor are getting cleaner. But both admit the rate of improvement would have to get faster, in order for the harbor to be swimmable by 2020.

Lindquist says, "An unloved and unused waterway doesn't get cleaned up," and the Baltimore Floatilla shows how many people use and love the harbor.

One of those people, Canton resident Mary Arthur, said she "just had to" be a part of the floatilla. She said she's not afraid of kayaking in the polluted water, and that people who are afraid should be even more inclined to support harbor cleanup.

"You're sketched out about the water? Then DO something about it!" she exclaimed.

Mike and Ann Armstrong came up to Baltimore from Clarksburg, Md., for the rally. Mike loves to fish on the Bay in his kayak. "The Chesapeake is such a jewel, there are so many different kinds of fish."

Says Ann, "We want to promote funding the Bay because it's dirty, and we like to use it."