At the 32nd annual Patuxent River Wade-In on Sunday, June 9, former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his sneakers through 47 inches of water. This year’s “sneaker index”—the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his shoes as he wades into the water—measured 11 inches higher than last year’s 36 inches.

Since 1988, the now 95-year-old Fowler has held the wade-in on the second Sunday in June, which now marks the end of Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week. Clad in his signature white sneakers and cowboy hat, he hosts the event to bring attention to the polluted waters of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. Held for decades near Fowler’s childhood home on Broomes Island, the event moved to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in 2010.

In the 1950s, Fowler could wade into the Patuxent up to his chest and still see the river’s bottom teeming with fish, shellfish and underwater grasses. Nutrient and sediment pollution, however, have led to declines in water clarity and fueled algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the river bottom. The 1960s sneaker index of 57 inches now serves as the benchmark for a restored Patuxent River.

Learn more about the health of the Bay’s rivers.

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