31st Annual "Sneaker Index" Shows Patuxent River Clarity

It’s not the most scientific way to judge water quality, but it’s one that is steeped in tradition. For 31 years, former Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler has waded into the water to see how far in he can go, while he’s still able to see his white shoes.

At the 31st annual Patuxent River Wade-In on Sunday, former Senator Fowler saw his sneakers through 36 inches of water. This year’s “sneaker index” measured a bit shallower than last year’s 41.5 inches.

 Md. Sec. of the Environment Ben Grumbles with Fowler
Md. Sec. of the Environment Ben Grumbles with Fowler

Fowler has continued the tradition for more than three decades to call attention to the importance of cleaning up the Patuxent River and the Bay. Since 1988, the now 93-year-old Fowler has held the wade-in on the second Sunday in June. The wade-in was long held near Fowler’s childhood home on Broomes Island, but has been happening at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum since 2010.

In the 1950s, Fowler could wade in all the way to his chest and still see to the bottom. But nutrient and sediment pollution have led to declines in water clarity. The goal for a restored Patuxent River is for Fowler’s sneaker index to someday reach 57 inches, what it measured in the 1960s.

-Meg Walburn Viviano