‘Sneaker Index’ at West River Wade-in Measures 28 Inches
On Saturday, the West/Rhode Riverkeeper held a wade-in, where participants gauged water clarity through an informal measurement known as the “sneaker index.” Basically, you walk out into the water until you can’t see your shoes.
The 2012 measurement, 28 inches, or .7 meters, is slightly less than in previous years, and significantly less than retired Maryland state Sen. Bernie Fowler measured in his youth. In the 1960s, Fowler could see his feet four to five feet below the surface.
To get to the wade-in location, participants paddled from Discovery Village in Shady Side to the Shady Cove Living Shoreline, one of the West/Rhode Riverkeepers’ largest restoration projects.
Also on Saturday, the South River Federation also celebrated the South River on Saturday, with a kayak sojourn out of Mayo Beach Park, a picnic and, later in the day, oyster planting.
Each fall, citizens and communities around the South River watershed grow oysters off of piers and community docks as part of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program.
Oysters are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay ecoystem. Each one-inch oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per hour. In addition, oysters eat and remove algae, which is too abundant in the Bay.
The oysters are grown on piers over winter and then in early summer are moved to a sanctuary reef. The cages are returned to piers so that in the fall new oysters can be introduced and grown for next year.
After the Shady Side wade-in, participants toured the restoration site and rescued a number of horseshoe crabs which had become stranded on the beach. West/Rhode Riverkeeper Chris Trumbauer said that it was a beautiful day to be in the water.
“A wade in may not be particularly scientific, but it is a fun way to get people involved and thinking about water quality,” Trumbauer said.
Sen. Fowler introduced the wade-in activity in 1988 to bring attention to the Patuxent River, which flowed through Fowler’s Calvert County district. Fowler’s efforts led to pollution control measures enacted by the state of Maryland and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Over the years, the wade-ins have helped to draw attention to the issue of water quality and the need for upstream pollution controls. The annual Patuxent River wade-ins led by Fowler attract dignitaries from around the state including U.S. members of the House of Representatives, U.S. senators, governors, state senators and delegates as well as local politicians and environmental activists.
In fact, the 25th anniversary of the first wade-in took place on Sunday at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard.
Here is a chart that shows the sneaker index over the years (from Maryland Department of Planning website) at the orginal wade-in site in Calvert County. The first two measurements are Fowler’s benchmark.