Annual Patuxent River Wade-in

35th​ Annual Patuxent River Wade-In


When Bernie Fowler was a young man in the 1950s, he stood chest-deep in the Patuxent, netting blue crabs. He was able to see his feet on the river bottom. Since then, more of the watershed of the Patuxent River—the largest Maryland river wholly contained within the state—has been developed. Efforts to improve water quality are ongoing…but how to measure success?

Bernie Fowler adapted his youthful observation into an informative and fun annual assessment of water clarity. Senator Fowler held the first Patuxent "Wade-In" in 1988 to assess whether he could still see his sneakers while wading into the river. This became known as the “Sneaker Index.” His white sneakers disappeared from view in a disappointing 10 inches of water. At age 97, he led the 34th Wade-In late June, 2021, at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum​​. His sneakers were visible until he reached a depth of 34 inches – down nine inches from the previous year and 13 inches from 2019. Though the year’s measure was less than hoped for, the river’s murkiness on Wade-In day can be attributed in part to 6.5 inches of rain that fell during the previous fifteen days.

Senator Fowler anticipated returning for the 2022 Wade-In but sadly, the 2021 Wade-in was Senator Fowler’s last as he passed away on December 12, 2021 in his beloved Calvert County. Mr. Fowler was the fourth of six children. His family moved to Broomes Island in Calvert County when he was a year old. “The river supported his family through the tough times of the [D]epression, and as Bernie grew up he learned the value of hard work helping his family make ends meet by working as a waterman, carpenter, and machinist.”1 At the beginning of World War II he was a machinist at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard but later served on a ship in the Pacific. After returning home he started a business, “Bernie’s Boats,” where he met the woman who would become his wife. He and Betty Lou wed in 1949 and were married for 69 years before she died in 2018.

Senator Fowler also served as Calvert County commissioner from 1970-1982 and as Maryland state senator from 1983-1994, and used his positions as Calvert County Commissioner and Maryland State Senator to work for reducing pollution and improving water quality in the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. “In 1977, he led three counties—Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s—to file a lawsuit against the state and federal government for not doing their part in following the Clean Water Act. They won and the tide started to turn” in favor of restoring the waterways.2

 
Bernie's "depth" over the years

The wade-in has never really been about the number on the tape measure but the commitment to restore the Patuxent.

Water clarity is critical for the survival of underwater grasses, which help keep Bay water clean by absorbing nutrients and provide shelter and food for wildlife. Water clarity is also a good indicator of the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that exists in a river. Heavy rain, like what occurred in Maryland a day before the wade-in, can increase stormwater runoff, allowing additional pollution to flow into the water.”3 

The 2022 Bernie Fowler Wade-In will take place on June 12 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, 10515 Mackall Road, St. Leonard, MD 20685. 



  1. Southern Maryland Online, https://somd.com/announcements/obits/name/19791-Clyde-Bernard-(Bernie)-Fowler.html
  2. Fowler, Cate. “What’s Up? Visionaries: Bernie Fowler.” What’s Up? Media, January 19, 2016. https://whatsupmag.com/news/up-visionaries-bernie-fowler/
  3. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/news/blog/Bernie_Fowler_Wade_In_2021​  ​ ​​​

 A Conversation with Bernie Fowler

​The Department of Planning had the pleasure of conducting this video with Bernie Fowler in 2012 prior to his 25th annual wade-in. The senator reflected on his life-long commitment to the health of Maryland's waters and the 25 years of the annual wade-in event.​​

​ ​​​
Bernie's feet logo
Bernie showing shoes
Bernie's shoes

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