What a perfect antidote to coastal OBX suburbia our visit to Chincoteague and Assateague was. It couldn’t have come at a better time. We drove the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (interesting!) to get to the peninsula that leads to the famous Pony Islands of Chincoteague (populated, but old-style fishing lifestyle) and Assateague (where the National Seashore/Refuge is). Now this is wonderful nature to see!
For anyone familiar with Marguerite Henry’s books (Misty, Stormy and Sea Star), you know these islands have been inhabited for hundreds of years by wild ponies who swam ashore when a Spanish galleon sank offshore (or so the story goes).
Each July, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department rides on horseback from Chincoteague to Assateague to round up 1/3 of the wild pony population for sale to willing buyers. The firefighters are fiercely devoted to the wild ponies, and they actually round up the whole herd three times yearly for health checks, vaccinations, etc. The late-July Pony Penning draws hundreds of thousands of onlookers each year and reduces the herd by 50, just enough to keep the population stable and sustainable on the Virginia side of Assateague. We were so lucky to see 14 of them on a hike around the southeastern end of the island.
The reserve is noted for its protected salt marshes which are home to many thousands of shore birds and migratory flocks. The ponies get top billing, though. What a treasure. There are many ways to get a glimpse of them, via kayaks, bikes, pontoon cruises and on foot. It’s also gotta be great fun in May-June, when the foals are still quite young and innocent!