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Wade In Day

Updated: May 28, 2023

Honorary Heron: Sen. Bernie Fowler

At Great Blue Heron Outdoors, we love a good wade! It turns out, we aren’t the only ones who feel strongly about getting our feet in the water and making sure that water is good and clean. We recently became acquainted with the story of a legendary wader and feel that it is our duty to introduce you to this man after our own heart.

In 1988, Clyde Bernard Fowler, was born in Maryland in 1924 and is best known for his passionate advocacy for improving the health of his beloved Patuxent River. As a young man in the 1940s and 50s, Fowler would wade into the river to fish and crab. He recalled that he could see his white sneakered shoes clearly through the water at the end of his six foot frame. Later, Fowler noticed that the water was becoming less clear—he could no longer see his feet through the murky water. That is when he decided to run for office in 1970m making the health of the river a key point in his campaign. Fowler served as a Calvert County Commissioner and later was elected to the Maryland Senate where he continued his tireless advocacy for water quality.

Fowler, known affectionately as “Bernie,” not only made major contributions to water heath in Maryland through his legislative and legal actions; he also urged others to pay attention to their home waters and fight for water quality. He galvanized public support by leading fellow Marylanders in a “wade-in” in 1988. At that time, he led locals to don their white sneakers and step on into the Patuxent River. Waders were to walk into deeper water until they could no longer see their feet. Each year, at subsequent “wade-ins,” participants measured the depth at which they lost sight of their feet through the water. As water quality improved over the years, the waders were able to see their feet at greater depths.

In an oral history interview, Bernie recalls that the first wade-in brought out a handful of people who picnicked and sang songs afterward.

In the years that followed more and more people joined Bernie for their annual “wade in, testing the water and celebrating as a community of water lovers in the process. Visibility increased over the years, and perhaps more importantly, the annual event brought tremendous “visibility” to the water quality issue that relatively few were concerned about at the time. By 1997, US senators and other political dignitaries were attending the annual wade in. With time similar wade ins began to occur on the same date at other rivers and waters in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Since then, every second Sunday in June, for more than 30 years, concerned citizens have waded into the Patuxent River. Water quality is now a much more prominent topic than in 1988, but the Bernie Fowler wade in tradition continues. In June 2021, for example, the group that waded in to the Patuxent River in white sneakers measured a “sneaker index“ of 34 inches.

Here are past “sneaker index” levels:

We are far from the Chesapeake here in Kansas and Missouri, and local river clean up and water quality testing projects have become common with many dedicated volunteers. The tools of “citizen science” have progressed well beyond white sneakers. Scientists would have a lot to say about the statistical significant of water turbidity on a single day of the year. And some might say that a public wading event is not longer necessary to call attention to the importance of water quality.

But anyone who know us will know what we say: “Wade On In.” Whether it is about water quality, or just the connection with nature that comes from wading, we are in favor of it. So on June 11, 2023 (yes, the second Sunday in June), we plan to wade in the Kansas River below Bowersock Dam in Lawrence. Will anyone join us?!


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