THIS IS the time of year when many of us frolic in and around the Chesapeake Bay and the waterways that flow into it. I, for one, enjoy the bay in many ways - sailing, kayaking, swimming (before the nettles appear), jogging along the waterfront or just taking in the view from scenic locations.
During the 12 years I have lived and played near this great body of water, I, like others, have noticed changes in the water's clarity. It seems clearer in the winter when there is less apparent biological growth, less boat traffic and usually less rainfall to carry runoff down the stream banks into the main bodies of water.
The summer generally reverses those conditions and brings on others such as lawn and crop fertilization, carwashing and ground-clearing for development, creating murkier water.
Science has shown many other serious long-term reasons for the changes in the bay. Many people are working diligently to stabilize and restore bay waters, but change is slow and hard to see on a day-to-day or even year-to-year basis.
Each year, I eagerly await the results of what are probably Maryland's most unscientific water clarity observation tests: the wade-ins.
Former Calvert County state Sen. Bernie Fowler began an annual wade-in 14 years ago - the same year the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed - to draw attention to the deteriorating condition.
According to his model, the depth of water in the Patuxent River - a major bay tributary - at which he could no longer see his sneakers indicated the quality of the water. While the "sneaker index" is no scientific research model, it is a fun way to gain the attention of the public and the media and to get people involved.
That first wade-in, which measured 10 inches on the sneaker index, spawned much interest and eventually nine additional wade-ins sponsored by each of Maryland's 10 Tributary Strategy Teams at different locations in the bay watershed.
The Trib Teams, as they are nicknamed, are made up of local residents, farmers, business leaders and government officials appointed by the governor to work on policies and projects that restore and maintain healthy local waterways. The wade-ins take place on the same Sunday in June.
On June 10, the Lower Western Shore Trib Team, consisting mainly of Anne Arundel residents, held its fourth annual wade-in at the Owings Cliffs community beach in Fairhaven. This Trib Team works on issues affecting the Magothy, Severn, South, West and Rhode rivers watersheds as well as Herring Bay.
Organized each year by Owings Cliffs resident Barbara Shields, the event draws residents from across the county and often elected officials. This year, Del. George W. Owings III, a Calvert County Democrat, was among a couple dozen participants to measure the official 2001 sneaker index.
Their reading was 29 inches. Previous readings at Owings Cliffs were 32 inches in 1998, 24 inches in 1999 and 26 last year.
Among the 2001 waders were county residents Eleanor and Bob Dickmann, Peg Burroughs, Vivienne and Michael Trawick, Ginger Ellis and Terry Lehr.
This year's wade-in day was particularly busy, with an oyster gardening workshop held at nearby Herrington Harbour South that morning.
Creating an oyster bar in Herring Bay is one of the priorities for the group, along with promoting cleaner marinas, better boating practices and the elimination of derelict boats on the shore.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Oyster Corps Coordinator for Maryland, Stephanie Reynolds, discussed the importance of oysters to the bay, then led a group cage-making exercise.
Each person went home with a cage, instructions and enough oyster shells and spat to grow oysters over the next year. The group anticipates creating a 2-acre oyster bar in Herring Bay.
Check out www.rosehaven maryland.com, to see pictures of the wade-in and learn more about community activities there. Information about the Tributary Strategy Teams and activities in your immediate area: www.dnr.state. md.us/bay/tribstrat/index.html.
"Picture Maryland," a project involving Maryland's Tributary Teams, is another great source of information. The booklet, published for Earth Day and available online, is a citizens' guide to shaping the future of Maryland.
It includes a description of growth issues, resources and Web sites. Visit www.picturemary land.net.