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For the 27th time, former Maryland Sen. Bernie Fowler waded into the Patuxent River for his yearly “sneaker index,” his special way of measuring the health of the river.

But for the first time, he wasn’t wearing his same familiar sneakers, overalls and hat he had worn in more than 100 wade-ins across the state. This time, he sported new white sneakers with a thin red stripe on the bottom and different overalls and straw hat with a little American flag.

Just before wading into the water with a row of friends, family, politicians and community members with linked arms, Fowler presented his old ensemble to the Calvert Marine Museum.

Fowler later said he wanted to donate it while he was still around and able to appreciate whatever is done with his donation. Fowler recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

“I wanted to give it to them to see what they’ll do with it,” Fowler said.

The clothing will be displayed in the new Estuarium exhibit opening in October, said Sherrod Sturrock, deputy director of the Calvert Marine Museum.

“It’s such a symbolic thing, this outfit he’s worn all these years to all these wade-ins,” Sturrock said Monday. “We have enormous respect for Bernie and the work he’s done.”

The new red and white sneakers’ inaugural wade-in at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum was short, compared with the results of previous years. After Fowler can’t see the top of his shoes in the water, the height of the water of his overalls is measured. Last year, the water measured 34 inches. In 2012, it was 35.

This year, Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) measured the water on Fowler’s overalls at 23 inches. It wasn’t the shortest water height ever measured, though. That title goes to a 9-inch measurement in the 1980s.

The Patuxent River received a “D” grade in terms of its health in 2013 by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, down several percentage points from the previous year. Overall, the Chesapeake Bay scored a “C” grade in 2013.

“This river is eminently fixable,” said Walter Boynton, a professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Lab in Solomons. “Basically, we need to continue along the lines we’ve been working.”

Water improvement measures typically take several years to fully show results, Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said, and in the next years, the river should show the fruits of the labor.

“One of the joys of this job is seeing progress being made,” she said.

“We musn’t give up hope,” Fowler said. “We must never give up courage ... we must never, never forget we’re trying to clean up this river.”

sfleischman@somdnews.com