- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In 1988, former senator Bernie Fowler led his first group of people into the Patuxent River to bring to light the declining quality of its water.
“I don’t think we had more than 15 or 20 people,” Fowler said. “It was just a small group of determined soldiers that was going to build a platform to focus on the plight of the Patuxent River.”
Since its inception, the annual Patuxent River Wade-In has “grown tremendously” and will celebrate its 25th anniversary at 1 p.m. Sunday at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Fowler said he moved the event to the park to ensure that the event would be a permanent one in the years to come.
Fowler said before the first wade-in, he was constantly telling people that the river’s water quality was declining. He would tell people that when he was a boy he could wade out into the river “so far that my body would become buoyant and I could still see the crab that I was chasing,” but that soon changed. So Fowler and a few friends decided to wade out into the increasingly murky waters of the river to bring the issue to light.
“That’s how it got started,” Fowler said.
Sunday’s event is free and open to the public, according to a Maryland Department of Planning press release, and guests can wade into the river with Fowler to test the water’s clarity. The goal of the event is to increase awareness of the condition of the Patuxent River, the press release states.
The water clarity will be tested using Fowler’s personal tracking mechanism, known as the Bernie Fowler Sneaker Index, which involves walking into the river until people can no longer see their feet or shoes, the press release states.
Fowler said the sneaker index method is not a very scientific way of measuring the water quality, “but it’s one that everybody understands.” He said there are now about 20 wade-ins throughout Maryland and it helps to get people to focus on the tributaries. Many people do not understand scientific methodology, he said, but people do understand that the water is not clean when they walk out and see mud and slime.
“That’s the whole purpose, just to focus the attention on the river … in a way that is understood by all,” he said.
Last year, Fowler could see his shoes in up to 31.25 inches of water. This year, Fowler said he expects the measurement to be about the same as last year.
“I’d say that it would probably be about the same, and I say that with a little bit of sadness in my tone because our river … got an ‘F’ this year,” Fowler said. “It’s the lowest grade that it’s ever gotten.”
For 2011, the Patuxent River was given a grade of “F” for its bay health index and was deemed to have very poor ecosystem health, according to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network website. The website states the river had declines in dissolved oxygen and the phytoplankton community, which brought the overall grade so low.
Fowler said while it “depends on my creator,” he has “no intentions of quitting whatsoever.” He said he plans on continuing with the wade-in as long as he is able and hopes to see the river’s water quality improve. He said he has a slogan he uses for the wade-in and getting its message across, which he said he “borrowed” from Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never, never, never give up.”
“I don’t have any intention of [giving up],” Fowler said. “There’s a lot of cleaning to do yet.”