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The Patuxent Deserves Better

Be relentless and constant, Bernie Fowler counsels

Forty-two years in, and your life’s work earns an F.
    That’s how long it’s been since Bernie Fowler took on the establishment to stand up for the Patuxent River, suing the state of Maryland and the federal government to “do what they ought to be doing: put a plan together to upgrade our river.”
    You and I might find that grade on the NOAA-University of Maryland 2011 report card discouraging. Not Bernie Fowler. He’s in for the long haul.
    However long it takes, “We’ve got to be absolutely relentless and constant.”
    “Discouraged? Absolutely not. Disappointed, yes,” he allows.
    “I’d hoped this river could have been used as a model, expedite it, to make things happen so we will see a real difference. We know what’s wrong. we know how to fix it. We just haven’t had the finances and the resources.”
    The second Sunday of June 2012 is as good a day as any to turn the tide, the 88-year-old former state senator figures. A breeze blows into the big tent, set up for the past three years by the Maryland Department of Planning at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Under that protection, Fowler reckons, these Patuxent River wade-ins can continue in perpetuity.
    The breeze and the shade cool Fowler’s nearly 300 followers but not their ardor. They applaud his fervor and laugh at his jokes. Speeches — marked by challenges and encomiums and punctuated by song — go on for nearly an hour. They listen, contentedly.
    Captive in the front row, facing the audience, are many of Maryland’s most influential politicians. The powers that be are here to hear Bernie Fowler’s appeal, with God and all the people as his witnesses.
    “Governor I love you, I really do, I pray for you,” Fowler says to Martin O’Malley. “But there’s something missing in this formula why we haven’t got this river cleaned up.”
    Never give up. Never, never, never! Bernie Fowler chants before leading his followers and our leaders in the 25th annual Patuxent River Wade-In.
    In they wade, the governor and Congressman Steny Hoyer locking arms with Fowler at the center of a long line. This year, the tall advocate wades 35 inches before the toes of his worn white sneakers disappear in the murk.
    That’s the deepest since 2002. But it’s not enough.

See this year’s Wade-In at