Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer measures Bernie Fowler’s overalls after the 2016 Wade-in.

St. Leonard, MD – The early afternoon of Sunday, June 12 was beautiful, with the only challenge for anyone near the banks and beaches of the Patuxent River the abnormally gusty winds. The wind might have played a factor in the annual effort to unscientifically gauge the clarity of the river, one of several tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.

The 29th annual Bernie Fowler Patuxent River Wade-in, held for the seventh time at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard, demonstrated that there are still passionate advocates for cleaning up the region’s waterways.

“I’ve been watching this river die for a long time,” said Fowler, the former state senator and county commissioner who grew up and made a living on the Patuxent. “I want to watch it live. We’re fighting a war against pollution.”

To raise awareness about the need to intensify efforts to restore the river’s health, Fowler, wearing overalls and old, white sneakers; wades into the Patuxent and stops when he can no longer see his submerged shoes. Once ashore, his overalls are measured to see how far into the river he waded before he stopped.

In 2015, a 17-year high 44.5 inches was measured. The 2016 number was over one foot less—a mere 31 inches. Maryland Fifth District Congressman Steny Hoyer, who made the measurement, affirmed the choppy water conditions of the moment proved detrimental to obtaining a more accurate reading.

Fowler, who is 92, declared he wanted to live long enough to see the Patuxent and Chesapeake restored to the days when local watermen could earn a living thanks to abundant populations of crabs, oysters and fish. He lamented that even Maryland restaurants and stores were selling seafood from foreign countries such as China. “I don’t want their seafood,” Fowler stated. “I want U.S. seafood and I want it to come from the Chesapeake Bay.”

Later, Fowler told The BayNet that development, facilitated by large wastewater treatment plants, is the main culprit of the degradation of the bay and its tributaries.
Support for Fowler’s effort to get science and government working together was voiced by several speakers prior to the wading. Hoyer and one other member of Congress—Maryland Eighth District Congressman Chris Van Hollen—along with Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, State Senator and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chairman Thomas Mac Middleton and Calvert County Commissioner Tom Hejl promised to help. The administration of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was represented by Deputy Director of Planning Wendy Peters, who brought greetings from the governor.

“This man [Fowler] has been fighting for this river for a lot of years,” said Dr. Kelton Clark, director of Morgan State University’s Estuarine Research Center, which is located at Jefferson Patterson Park. He urged those gathered under the large tent to stand up and shout out a pledge to “never, never give up,” which they did.

“Over the long run we will continue to cleaning up the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay,” said Van Hollen. “We all know we’ve got a long way to go.”

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