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