‘We can never lose our hope’

‘Sneaker In­dex’ drops at an­nual river wade-in

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - By TAMARA WARD tward@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

On a beau­ti­ful blus­tery af­ter­noon at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum, decked out in denim over­alls, sneak­ers and a straw hat complete with a minia­ture Amer­i­can flag, for­mer Mary­land state sen­a­tor and county com­mis­sioner Bernie Fowler ush­ered nearly 160 fam­ily mem­bers, dig­ni­taries and friends from un­der­neath a large yel­low and white tent to a shore­line to wade into the Patux­ent River to draw at­ten­tion to its health.

Much like Punx­sutawney Phil, who emerges ev­ery Fe­bru­ary to check for his shadow, since 1988 the now-92-year-old Fowler walks into the Patux­ent River to check for wa­ter clar­ity ev­ery June. Fowler started the an­nual tra­di­tion of hav­ing peo­ple wade into the river un­til they can no longer see their feet. That mea­sure­ment, af­fec­tion­ately known as the “Sneaker In­dex,” was 31 inches in the event’s 28th year this past Sun­day, down from 44 inches last year, the high­est wa­ter clar­ity in his­tory. The low­est was 8 inches dur­ing the 1989 wade-in.

“To­day was a lit­tle de­cep­tive be­cause the wind was blow­ing real hard on shore and when­ever that hap­pens it’s go­ing to stir up the tur­bu­lence. Now, back 50 years ago, we had aquatic veg­e­ta­tion; we would have had a lot more transparency then. There’s noth­ing to stop it now when the wind blows,” said Fowler.

Fowler has been a staunch ad­vo­cate for Mary­land’s largest river for al­most five decades. Prior to wad­ing in, he ap­plauded his part­ners in the ef­fort to im­prove the health of the Patux­ent.

“It’s won­der­ful to know that there’s still some peo­ple that truly care about the health of the Patux­ent River and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” said Fowler, wel­com­ing a host of pub­lic of­fi­cials, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and wa­ter en­thu­si­asts un­der a large tent at the park.

Be­fore in­tro­duc­ing speak­ers, Fowler shared his frus­tra­tions and op­ti­mism about the fu­ture and ben­e­fits of the river.

“It crushes me, it re­ally does — to watch this river die … I want to watch it live … I want to see those dead zones go away. I want to see that veg­e­ta­tion come back. We can never lose our faith; we can never lose our hope,” shared Fowler.

Fowler said there has been di­min­ish­ing en­thu­si­asm to clean up the bay and river and that Mary­lan­ders shouldn’t have to im­port seafood from else­where.

“We need to reignite that en­thu­si­asm. This is an eco­nomic en­gine that would pro­duce lots of jobs and bring us good Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Patux­ent River seafood with­out hav­ing to im­port it from China, Korea, Ecuador, Peru,” stressed Fowler.

“This is a lot like preach­ing to the choir — they’re easy speeches. Some­times the choir needs to preach back. This man has been fight­ing for this river for a lot of years,” said Kel­ton Clark, di­rec­tor of the Mor­gan State’s Patux­ent En­vi­ron­men­tal & Aquatic Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory (PEARL). Clark lead the crowd in a chant and prom­ise to Fowler to “Never, never, never give up” on the fight to clean the Patux­ent River.

Nu­mer­ous politi­cians from far away and nearby, the left and right, came to­gether and sur­ren­dered their par­ti­san­ship to sup­port Fowler and his love for the river.

“We need to have the en­thu­si­asm that Bernie has. We need to clean up all of our wa­ter ways, not just the Patux­ent River. We need to save it for our chil­dren and our grand­chil­dren,” said Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent Tom Hejl (R), who rem­i­nisced about his child­hood on the wa­ter and be­ing able to see his feet at 5 feet of wa­ter. Hejl ap­plauded Fowler for his preser­va­tion ef­forts and work in the state.

House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) took an op­por­tu­nity to briefly ac­knowl­edge Satur­day’s mass shoot­ing in an Or­lando night­club, re­fer­ring to it as a “dark day in Amer­ica,” be­fore turn­ing his at­ten­tion to the rea­son for the day’s cel­e­bra­tion.

“This event, and why I come to this event ev­ery year, is about hope and vi­sion and con­fi­dence that the in­di­vid­ual ef­forts and the col­lec­tive ef­forts of our leader,” said Hoyer, re­fer­ring to him­self as a “Fowler Fol­lower.” “This is a com­mit­ment to our coun­try. Yes, it’s a com­mit­ment to the Patux­ent River and as­sump­tion of our re­spon­si­bil­ity as chil­dren of God that we will keep that which God gave us and re­store and make it whole.”

In clos­ing, Hoyer urged chil­dren un­der 12 to stand and told the au­di­ence those chil­dren are count­ing on them to pre­serve the Patux­ent. Hoyer has waded in the wa­ter with Fowler for al­most ev­ery year for nearly three decades and has mea­sured for the for­mer sen­a­tor’s sneaker in­dex quite a few times to in­clude this year.

With the Patux­ent River be­ing a trib­u­tary of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, it was no sur­prise there were bay ad­vo­cates on hand at the event rec­og­niz­ing the in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity and im­por­tance of restor­ing the health of both bod­ies of wa­ter.

“All of our em­pha­sis is on restor­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to its orig­i­nal vi­tal­ity,” said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles), pres­i­dent of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Com­mis­sion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion made up of leg­is­la­tors es­tab­lished to as­sist Mary­land, Vir­ginia and Penn­syl­va­nia with pol­icy manag­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. “We wanted to do some­thing spe­cial this year … in all three states we passed a res­o­lu­tion declar­ing this week Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Aware­ness Week.” The week, to be ob­served the sec­ond week in June, has var­i­ous events in the tri-state area that in­crease cit­i­zen sup­port for restor­ing the bay.

Other com­mis­sion mem­bers were in at­ten­dance to sup­port Fowler, who is also the Mary­land cit­i­zen rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Com­mis­sion. Cel­e­brat­ing their first wadein were com­mis­sion mem­bers Del. Tawanna Gaines (D-Prince Ge­orge’s) and Keith J. Gille­spie, a mem­ber of the 47th leg­isla­tive dis­trict in the Penn­syl­va­nia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. For­mer mem­bers were also present to par­take in the fes­tiv­i­ties.

“I came here to­day just to par­tic­i­pate and walk into the bay with Bernie and be part of the con­tin­ued cleanup ef­forts,” said John Lipman, Mary­land di­rec­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Com­mis­sion from 1993 to 1996, who trav­eled from Mas­sachusetts. “All these years later, I’m back down here be­cause I still be­lieve in this place and I still be­lieve we can make a dif­fer­ence.”

Leg­is­la­tors from Howard County and Mont­gomery County were in at­ten­dance, to in­clude Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md., 8th), who is known as a strong pro­po­nent of the need for more en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. Van Hollen en­cour­aged lis­ten­ers to con­tinue the fight to re­store “the eco­nomic lifeblood of the state” and likened the restora­tion ef­forts to rid­ing an es­ca­la­tor.

“We all know we’ve got a long way to go. … It’s like run­ning up an es­ca­la­tor that’s go­ing down. Some­times you feel like you are run­ning in place, but you gotta think of the fact that if you hadn’t been run­ning up, you’d be at the very bot­tom of the es­ca­la­tor — this bay would be dead,” said Van Hollen. “Be­cause of the work that you’ve done, we’re ac­tu­ally a lot bet­ter off than we would be if it hadn’t been for the ef­forts of ev­ery­body who is gath­ered here un­der the tent.”

While dis­ap­pointed with this year’s mea­sure­ment, Fowler was hope­ful for the fu­ture and grate­ful for what has been done over the decades.

“If it hadn’t been for the hun­dreds of peo­ple that have worked so hard, this river would have been dead,” said Fowler, ac­knowl­edg­ing there is more work to do. “It makes me feel great [see­ing chil­dren play in the river] and they’re the peo­ple that will have to pick up the ba­ton and run with it.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TAMARA WARD

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, third from left, joins for­mer sen­a­tor Bernie Fowler, fourth from left, and Fowler’s fam­ily dur­ing the Patux­ent River Wade-In at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum on June 12. The an­nual event serves to check the wa­ter’s clar­ity and in­crease the aware­ness of the con­di­tion of the Patux­ent River.

Kel­ton Clark, di­rec­tor of the Mor­gan State Patux­ent En­vi­ron­men­tal & Aquatic Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory (PEARL), leads the crowd in a chant and prom­ise to for­mer sen­a­tor Bernie Fowler to “Never, never, never give up” on the fight to clean the Patux­ent River, dur­ing the an­nual wade-in at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum on Sun­day. The event serves to check the wa­ter’s clar­ity and in­crease the aware­ness of the con­di­tion of the river.

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