July 22, 2011

7/16/2011 – Chincoteague NWR

Chincoteague is a cute little beach town full of tourists.  But the Chincoteague NWR isn’t on Chincoteague Island—it’s on Assateague Island.  We drove across the island to the Visitors Center (run by the US Fish & Wildlife Svc), checked out the exhibits and watched a movie on the island’s wild horses.
If you know the story about Misty, raise your hand.  If you don’t, here’s a recap:  in 1946, Marguerite Henry wrote a book called Misty of Chincoteague about two children who bought and raised a filly born to a wild horse on the island.  The book became famous--and so did the island’s annual pony penning.  The book is still in print so lots of little girls can read it.
There are 2 versions of how the horses got to Assateague Island; either they were on a Spanish Galleon that sank in the 1600s or they were put there by Virginia planters in the 1700s to avoid paying taxes.  Pick your legend—either way, they’ve been there a long time. 
In the 1920s there were 2 separate fires in the village of Chincoteague.  They formed a volunteer fire department, and decided to round up and sell some of the wild ponies to buy fire equipment.  Each July the “Saltwater Cowboys” round up ponies and swim them across from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island and pen them, then auction off the larger foals. 
There are 2 herds of wild ponies, separated by a fence at the Virginia/Maryland state line.  The Virginia ponies are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept, and allowed to graze on the refuge.  They have vet care because they’re sold off-island to people all over the world.  The Maryland ponies are managed by the NPS and are left completely wild.  They don’t get vet care or innoculations, but the NSP shoots hormone-loaded darts into the mares to keep the population down to about 150 ponies.  They’re allowed to breed once, when they’re 5. 

We found 2 bands of the horses in Black Duck Marsh.  We stopped by the side of the road to LOTS of pictures(!), then continued down Beach Road to the Tom’s Cove Visitors Center (run by the Natl. Park Svc).  Actually Assateague Island Natl. Seashore is in Maryland, not Virginia, but the NPS helps on management on the refuge.  It’s so wonderful to see inter-agency cooperation at the national level, isn’t it?
Assateague Island is a long skinny barrier island.  Chesapeake Bay has lots of water, but it’s mucky.  The beach on Assateague collects tourists like horses do flies. 
We picnicked there, then headed back to Woodland Trail where there’s an outlook to see ponies.  It’s 1.6 miles through the woods on a paved trail.  We saw two Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrels.  They’re an endangered species, bigger and lighter colored and slower than most squirrels; they are the first squirrels I’ve ever seen who walk instead of jump! 

We found the outlook but the ponies were way across the marsh so our original pictures were better.  Our Deet wasn’t working, so we fought the mosquitos all the way back to the truck!  They won…

Click the link for more pictures:  Chincoteague NWR  

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