Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chincoteague & Assateague: Where the Ponies Run Free

It’s mid-January and we’re all getting a little tired of contending with cold, blustery weather.  Dreams of summer vacation dance in our heads and we all wonder, where will I go this year?  Well, look no further than Chincoteague and Assateague! 

Chincoteague and Assateague are islands off the coast of Virginia, or more specifically, the Eastern Shore.  The Eastern Shore is a peninsula that dips down from Maryland and is part of the state of Virginia.  Along the upper eastern side of the peninsula, you will find Chincoteague and the beginnings of Assateague.  I say the beginnings because Assateague actually extends into Maryland and covers 48,000 acres with 37 miles of pristine beach.  On the Virginia side of Assateague you will find the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. 

Some of you may be thinking, wasn’t there a book called Misty of Chincoteague?  And you would be correct.  The book, written by Marguerite Henry, was set on the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague and tells the story of the Beebe family and their efforts to raise a filly born to a wild horse.  And that is what people come for--to see the wild ponies!

Wild ponies have roamed freely on the beaches and in the pine forests and salt marshes of Assateague since the 1600’s and are a major draw to the area even today.  But they are not the only draw as Assateague is also home to Sika Deer, Red Fox, Delmarva Fox Squirrel, Atlantic Bottle Nose Dolphin, Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and a number of other birds.  It is also a migratory path for some 300 species of birds throughout the year which makes it a hot spot for bird watchers. 

There are beaches to visit during the day along with walking and biking paths around the island and the lighthouse but since Assateague is a part of a national refuge, you cannot stay overnight on the island.  You’ll be able to find accommodations on Chincoteague in the form of motels, bed and breakfasts, and houses for rent.  There are no high rises though as the island has an ordinance limiting the height of buildings.  The town is quaint with lots of restaurants, gift shops and artists galleries.  If you’re interested in being active, you can rent mopeds, bicycles, and even go kayaking on the ocean or bay sides of the island. 

Hopefully the pictures I’ve included from the couple of visits I’ve made to Chincoteague and Assateague will convince you that it is definitely worth the trip!  And don’t forget to tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!