Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bernie's Legs Get a Little Longer

A little farther in Bernie Fowler’s shoes
For 25 years, former state senator Bernie Fowler has led groups of people into the Patuxent River in his determined effort to raise awareness about the declining quality of its water.

On June 10, dozens of Southern Maryland residents spent an afternoon at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the annual Patuxent River Wade-In. The Patuxent River is a tributary that runs into the Chesapeake Bay and separates Calvert from Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

Fowler uses his personal tracking mechanism, the Bernie Fowler Sneaker Index, where he walks into the river until he can no longer see his shoes, to measure the clarity of the water. With predictions of the measurement being about the same as last year’s 31.25 inches, Fowler was able to wade out 35 inches into the Patuxent before losing sight of his white sneakers.
Bernie (in overalls) and others at "Wade-In" at Rhode River, 2009

“It really is not very scientific, but it’s a way of focusing, getting people engaged, connecting them to the river and knowing that there’s something bad happening out there,” Fowler said. The river looks beautiful on the surface, he said, “but it’s what’s down below the surface that you can’t see that’s causing the problem.”

 This year, the Patuxent River was given a grade of F for its bay health index and was deemed to have very poor ecosystem health by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network Web site.

“We deserve better than that,” Fowler said of the F rating. “The Patuxent River deserves better than that.”
Unsaid in this story is the perennial story about how, when he was a kid, he used to wade chest deep in the estuarine Patuxent River, near his home at Broomes Island, and still see his white sneakers.  I wonder about it myself.  I remember an early trip to Maryland from California when I was 6, and I first swam in the Chesapeake Bay at Kenwood Beach, just up the beach from where I live now, a walk on a good day.  Having just learned to swim in a pool, I remember swimming in the Bay and thinking how green and murky it was.  That would have been right around the time Bernie was a teenager.  I don't want to call him a liar, or anything, but I think he might just be remembering "the good days."

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