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Wade In, Look Down, Join In

2018 Sneaker Index: 36 inches and rising

As they have for 31 years, a chain of people walked into the Patuxent River on June’s second Sunday, hand in hand, and fully clothed. A tall man clad in overalls, cowboy hat and white sneakers waded at the center of that procession.

            Bernie Fowler could, at one time, walk shoulder high in the Patuxent and still see his feet on the sandy bottom. In 1988, then-state Sen. Fowler held the first-ever Patuxent River Wade In, encouraging local, like-minded environmentalists to focus on the river’s well-being.

            That inaugural year, the convoy only made it to 10 inches deep before Fowler lost sight of his bright, white shoes.

            This year’s contingent made it to 36 inches — 41⁄2 inches less than last year, but with the recent torrential rainfall, murky water was predictable.

            The Sneaker Index measurement, now made at Jefferson Patterson Park, isn’t an entirely foolproof experiment. Too many factors can disrupt the Patuxent at any given time. What Fowler’s Sneaker Index does do is educate, raise awareness and create community.

            Old friend Steny Hoyer, the second most powerful representative in the U.S. House, was on hand as usual measuring the damp on Fowler’s overalls.

            “For 31 years, Bernie has focused our attention on the health and cleanliness of our waterways,” Hoyer said, “and we are truly grateful for his efforts.”

            Fowler never relents in those efforts. At 94, he is unyielding in his resolve to protect the river he loves. “This year we saw some healthy signs that lifted our morale,” Fowler said. Some seaweed that hadn’t been there in previous years was uprooted. “It was heartwarming and enlightening to see that grass again, the red ducks love it,” he said.

            “We will truly never, ever, ever give up.”