Things will be different when 86-year-old Bernie Fowler wades into the Patuxent Sunday, June 13, for his 23rd annual checkup on the health of the river of his youth.
Chesapeake bard Tom Wisner won’t be on hand to sing Fowler and his wading companions into the water.
Wisner’s connection to the Annual Patuxent River Wade In is as deep as Fowler’s. He gave us the idea for the wade in — borrowed from Chief Turkey Tayak of the Southern Maryland Piscataway — and wrote “Bernie Fowler Day: A Guide to Wading in the Southern Maryland Waters,” the song that defined its hope and purpose:
Well we should do this yearly
On Bernie Fowler Day.
Dress up fit to kill
And wade out all the way.
Tom died on April 30, so this year it’s his spirit that will be the waders’ guide.
Second, this year’s Patuxent River Wade In moves to a different stretch of the river.
Always before, Fowler entered the river at Broomes Island, where he knew the waters like he knew his own feet, which he could see even when the six-footer waded in up to his chest. Bernie’s Boats, a rowboat business he started at Broomes Island with a $4,000 G.I. Bill loan after his service in World War II, often had the young Fowler that deep in the water. There, too, he met Betty Lou, his wife of 60 years.
This year, however, the Annual Patuxent River Wade In moves across the river and a bit south to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.
“I can’t stop the aging process,” Fowler said of the move. “There will come a time when I won’t be able to do this. I want it to go on in perpetuity. I wanted to get it institutionalized, and there’s no better place than Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.”
With the move comes a view.
“You can look right over to where Bernie’s Boats used to be,” Fowler told Bay Weekly.
Third, this year gives Fowler more to celebrate than he’s had in a long time. Fowler has always said that “the way the Patuxent River goes, so goes the Chesapeake Bay.” Back in the early 1970s, Fowler joined a lawsuit on behalf of the Patuxent River filed by Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. The litigation eventually forced the state of Maryland and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to live up to the Clean Water Act.
This year, litigation by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation led the EPA to force states to reduce Bay pollution. For the first time, EPA has acknowledged it has legal responsibility to clean up the Bay. It will set and enforce state by state (and District of Columbia) standards throughout the Bay watershed for allowable levels of pollution from the big three: nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment. The sanctions for falling behind include loss of federal funding and permits.
In honor of Fowler’s work on behalf of the Bay, the suit was titled C. Bernard Fowler, et al v. EPA.
“Younger generations might just have the opportunity to enjoy the great happiness I enjoyed on the river,” Fowler said.
One thing will be the same: Fowler remains as determined as ever.
“My energy is good and my determination getting stronger. I will not cave in and give up,” he said.
And somewhere in the future,
We’ll look and see our feet again.
Could we ask for more?
That day is coming sure
You can help bring that day by joining hands and wading in. Tom Wisner said that’s how you felt the power of change, in the water and in the people: 1pm at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard: 410-586-8501. Song and speeches precede the Wade In. Feasting follows.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
editor and publisher; [email protected]
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