Let’s Hear it for the Bay: Celebrating the Nation’s Largest Estuary

By Meg Walburn Viviano, CBM News Director

It’s the first week in June, known in these parts as Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

Designated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, it’s a week’s worth of events (find them at chesapeakebay.net/action/attend) held annually to “celebrate the culture, history and natural beauty” of this unique body of water.

It’s fitting, then, that we would stop to take a closer look at the waterways that entwine the places where we live, work, and play.

The marsh that flashes through the trees as you drive by on the highway, the small stream seen on your neighborhood walk, the bridge you cross everyday to get to work: it’s all connected to our big, beautiful Bay.

The CBM Bay Weekly/Chesapeake Bay Media team had the good fortune to take a cruise through Kent Narrows last Friday on a “tiki barge”—a floating tiki hut with barstools created by the clever entrepreneurs at Sip Ahoy. (Forget golf outings—this is what we call office bonding!)

There we were, a bunch of Chesapeake Bay media professionals, floating around on the very body of water we cover day in and day out. No matter how familiar the subject matter, we couldn’t help but take in the Bay’s beauty and significance.

“Ooh, cormorant!” we squealed, when a shiny dark bird alit on a piling. 

Duck blinds dotted the shorelines of creeks, reminding us of the Eastern Shore waterfowl tradition.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine editor Jeff Holland pointed out a spit of land in the distance: “And there’s the site of the first (permanent) English settlement in Maryland,” he recalled, established in 1631 by fur trader William Claiborne.

The rich history, the wildlife, the scenery … all of this is why Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week exists, and why we should care about it.

One person who cared about it a great deal was former Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler—famous for measuring the health of the Patuxent River with his “sneaker index”. With all sorts of modern data available, Fowler still used the simple water clarity measure of how far he could wade into the water and still see his white sneakers on the bottom.

The Bay lost Bernie Fowler last December at age 97, and this weekend will be the first time in 35 years that he won’t lead the annual Wade-In at Jefferson Patterson Park. In this issue of Bay Weekly, editor emeritus Sandra Olivetti Martin recalls Fowler’s impact—forcing leaders to pay attention to Bay health.

What will this year’s “sneaker index” water clarity test find? Will it bring good news, like the historic high of 47 inches of visibility in 2019 … or disappointment, like 2021’s meager 34 inches?

We’ll report on the results this weekend, but in the meantime, we’ll draw inspiration from Bernie Fowler, who vowed never to give up on the health of his river and Bay.