An important tradition returned to the Patuxent River this weekend. At 97 years old, Bernie Fowler measured the 2021 “Sneaker Index” in his annual Patuxent Wade In at Jefferson Patterson Park. 100 “Fowler Followers”—regular attendees, old friends, and children of all ages—waded into the river Sunday afternoon, arm-in-arm.
97! He's holding up OK. One of the little known facts was that in addition to being a well known and well beloved politician in Calvert County, Bernie was a land developer (makes sign of the cross).
For 34 years, the former Maryland state senator has walked into the Patuxent to informally test its water quality. He walks until he can no longer see his white sneakers on the river bottom. From a low of 10 inches of sneaker visibility in 1988, the inaugural Wade In on the Patuxent, to a half-century high of 47 inches in 2019, Fowler’s “dear generous river” is recovering slowly.
What? Annual (let alone daily) variability? Whoda thunk!
This year’s Sneaker Index was a disappointing 34 inches, but Greg Bowen, emcee of the event and executive director of American Chestnut Land Trust (ACLT), attributes this decline to recent events—6.5 inches of rainfall in the last fifteen days.
All it takes to create poor visibility is an hour or two of wind beating against the shoreline to stir up a bit of sediment. I learned this from Walleye Pete, chasing clear water around the islands.
Although the Sneaker Index is an informal measure, in 2017 the Goddard Space Flight Center was able to confirm the accuracy of the wade-in yardstick by comparing it to images from two satellites. Science and common sense make a wonderful match: A former EPA administrator once called the Sneaker Index “magnificent in its simplicity: a good indicator of water quality.”
It is essentially a Secchi Disk, without the Secchi Disk. On the water, we use a light colored fishing lure.