Chesapeake Insider

Bernie Fowler


Former Maryland State Senator, Bernie Fowler, is one of the Chesapeake Bay’s greatest heroes and champions. Fowler served, in various capacities, as a member of the Calvert County Board of Education, a Calvert County Commissioner, and as a State Senator. In these positions, Fowler was a champion for the health and environmental quality of both the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. Beginning in 1988, Fowler hosted the first Patuxent River Wade-In, an informal index used to measure the health of the tributary by wading into the river with a pair of white sneakers, and measuring how deep one could walk out before losing sight of one’s shoes. As a young adult, Fowler would wade into the Patuxent and could see the diverse species of wildlife inhabiting it – fish, crabs, shellfish, SAV, etc. His original index taken in the 1960s – a measurement of 57 inches – hasn’t been seen since. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Bernie Fowler and learn about his passion for the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. The following interview took place in 2019.

One of the main missions of the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay is getting people out, experiencing the Chesapeake. We believe that when people are out experiencing the Chesapeake, whether it be on water or land, or learning about its history, they are more apt to protect it. Do you have any tips or ways for someone to appreciate the Chesapeake?

I believe there should be a mandate for environmental education, with an emphasis on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, in the state of Maryland. Just think if you will for just one moment, if you had a real, strong, effective, proven program of education teaching kids you’ve got to have good air for your lungs if you want to live long. You’ve got to have good water to drink. You can't be tolerating these dangerous parasites and diseases that we have in our water. Can you think of anything that's more important than clean water and clean air? You can't buy fresh air. You can't buy clear, cool water. People have got to reevaluate their lives individually, interactively, to think about what can be done to make Calvert County, the state of Maryland, the United States, better places, assuring that the generations that follow us will have adequate drinking water and clean air to breathe. It's not an easy challenge.

In your youth you noticed that attitudes towards the Bay were misguided, and that many people didn’t know how to be good stewards of the Bay. Many, in fact, were in denial about the declining health of the Bay. How did you deal with this denial about the Bay’s health?

People would say, “Oh there’s nothing wrong with the Bay. if you keep talking about the bay the way you’re talking you’re going to scare people away and chase all the business away from the Bay. There’s nothing wrong with the Bay – our scientists say there’s nothing wrong with it."

Well, I knew that was not right. When you grow up and see a river every morning when you wake up and every night before you go to bed, and you've been in it a lot of times, you just don’t lose sight of the features and characteristics of that river. And I could tell there was something wrong with the river. I even talked to some of the older watermen down there and they told me: “Bernie, we’ve seen the grass disappear – maybe not all of it would disappear but a lot of it would disappear, and that's when we really enjoyed seining for fish because then we wouldn’t get our nets messed up in the seaweed.”

They actually tried to poison the seaweed to try to make it easier to haul and sein – that’s how uneducated we were about the dynamics of the Bay and its tributaries. I believe today that the Chesapeake Bay is probably one of the greatest treasures of this state. That's why we have so many people involved in its use and protection.

What are some of your favorite places throughout the Chesapeake – parks, nature centers, stuff like that? Where do you like to find your Chesapeake?

Well, I don't really have to go far to find some really lovely spots here. The Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum and the Calvert Marine Museum with its history of the watermen down there. Patterson Park has a new Indian Village and all kinds of activities they promote there.

Calvert Marine Museum

The Calvert Marine Museum invites you to explore how our prehistoric past, natural environment, and maritime heritage come together to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay. The museum is also home to the Solomons Visitor Center, a visitor center which will help you find your way to Chesapeake Gateways in Southern Maryland and to this beautiful town's other attractions.

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Exploring 12,000 years of Bay history along the Patuxent River on the Eastern Shore, including the War of 1812.

Yazan Hasan

Yazan is a Maryland native, and Anne Arundel county local that's been shaped by the Chesapeake Bay. Currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science, he is passionate about working with disenfranchised communities on conservation, wetland ecology, and sustainability. He hopes to make our nature spaces accessible and enjoyable to all. Yazan has worked at Pickering Creek Audubon as an educator for grades K - 12, and at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as a filmmaker on a variety of topics including environmental policy, conservation, and green infrastructure. In his free time, Yazan is a freelance photographer and loves to spend time outdoors.

Michael Bowman

Michael Bowman is a native Marylander, who grew up in Southern Maryland along the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay which gave him a passion to learn and protect the environment. He is a graduate of Salisbury University with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a minor in History.

Kelsey Everett

Kelsey is the Digital Resouces Associate working with both the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office. Previously, Kelsey held a Chesapeake Conservation Corps internship with the National Park Service. She is a graduate of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and holds a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Geography.

December 30, 2020

Main image: Bernie Fowler, photo by Keith Rutowski, Chesapeake Bay Program
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