Today my family crossed the Wilson Bridge in our 1999 Dodge Caravan and drove due south through Calvert County to the sunny banks of the Patuxent River.
Destination? The 23rd annual Chesapeake Bay “Wade In” sponsored by Calvert’s own Bernie Fowler, former Maryland state senator, member of the Bay Commission and institutional expert of all things Chesapeake.
Senator Fowler’s brother-in-law is a long-time constituent who invited me. That was all the Petersens needed to pack our swim suits and goggles and head over.
The actual event was held on Broome’s Island near the confluence of the Bay and Patuxent. It’s farm country. Hand-painted signs on the road advertise fresh produce and blue crabs. Every other truck pulls a boat trailer.
There were a couple hundred local folks there and the galaxy of Maryland politicos including U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, Governor Martin O’Malley and several Delegates. I was the lone rep for the Commonwealth (naturally in my “Virginia” baseball hat).
The purpose of the “wade in” is to monitor the cleanliness of the Bay by seeing how far one can walk into the water at Broome’s Island and still see the shoes on your feet.
According to Senator Fowler, who is 80 years old and has always lived on the Bay, it was possible in the 1950′s for a grown man to be completely submerged (60 inches) in the Patuxent and still have his treads visible. That was the Golden Age of the Chesapeake when Bay oystermen and crabbers had “no limits” on their catch.
Things bottomed out literally in 1989, shortly after the “wade in” began. At that time, the waders only went in the river nine inches (halfway up your shin) before losing sight of the shoes. This, of course, was when the oyster and crab populations began their devastating decline.
Things have improved, ever so slightly, to the current mark of twenty-six inches as of 2008. The goal is to get back to the 1950′s standard, which seems very ambitious. But we’re an ambitious people.
Today, after speeches (by Hoyer) and singing (by O’Malley), the assembled joined hands and started into the water with the press cameras clicking. It was pretty murky and my shorts were barely moist before I lost the necessary visual. Soon after, the group turned around and walked back to shore. Suffice to say that the short walk “raised awareness”, got great publicity and no one drowned.
Actually my seven year-old daughter Mary Walton did provide a moment of danger. She walked out 100 yards before being stung by a jellyfish, a less desirable form of Bay aquatic life. She’s OK now.
In all seriousness, it was heartening to see the level of importance that Maryland has dedicated to Bay restoration. Governor O’Malley has made Bay cleanup a top goal for his administration. Congressman Hoyer talked at length about his dialogue with President Obama and the latter’s commitment to an EPA-led effort to clean up the watershed with Federal legislation.
Each was willing to come out on a Sunday in their swimsuit for the cause — and that doesn’t happen every day.
Perhaps next year we’ll get the Obama clan to join us.