Assateague Island National Seashore MD/VA

Assateague Island National Seashore MD/VA

As my daughter used to say whenever she found a penny, I am a lucky girl.

Why am I lucky? Because I can hop in my car and in just over a half hour, I will be on one of the cleanest, most unspoiled beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. No condos, no souvenir shops, no blaring music or carnival barkers… just me, the wind, and the waves.

Oh, and the ponies. But I’ll explain that shortly.

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Mind you, the only reason that civilization hasn’t encroached upon this little slice of heaven is because it belongs to the National Park System. If you have ever wondered whether the National Park System is worthwhile, one visit to Assateague will erase any doubt you may have had.

First, let me tell you about all of the wonderful things you can do there:

  • camp, either in a tent or a camper, for $30 per night.
  • go four wheeling on the beach
  • go for a hike on one of three trails (each spotlights a different ecosystem)
  • Swim and/or sunbathe on the beach
  • Visit the Assateague Lighthouse
  • Build a bonfire on the beach
  • Go fishing (but you must have a license)
  • Look for dolphins swimming offshore
  • Encounter wildlife, from snowy egrets to deer to wild ponies.

There are wild ponies that call Assateague Island home. Local legend says that they are descended from Spanish stallions that were stranded there after a shipwreck. A less romantic theory is that local landowners kept their horses on the island rather than keep them fenced in on their own property because there was a tax on fences at the time. (I’m sticking with the first story – it’s much more romantic.)

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Excuse me for shouting, but it needs to be said, emphatically.

DO NOT TOUCH OR FEED THE WILD PONIES!

Year after year, I see tourists come to Assateague and do all manner of stupid and/or obnoxious things where the ponies are involved. Occasionally, and especially when it is extremely hot, the horses will come out onto the beach. They know just as well as we do that it is cooler by the ocean. So they saunter out onto the sand and people lose their ever-loving minds. Instead of being smart and respectful by giving the ponies a wide berth, they try to pet them. That’s a good way to end up with a serious injury. Ponies will bite and kick, no matter how friendly they may seem.

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Because they are wild animals, they will always be on the lookout for food. If you have chips or other goodies out in the open, they will eat them. I’ve seen ponies grab an unopened box of Cheez-Its with its teeth and shake it until the box fell apart and the bag ripped open. I have also seem them nudge a cooler with their nose until the lid flew open.

And what did the owners of said Cheez-Its and cooler do? They got angry and tried to hit the pony with their shoe and spray it with water. You want to see mass hysteria?  Imagine an angry/scared pony coming at you at full gallop while you’re dozing on the sand.

Admire them from a distance (outside the kicking zone) and do not do anything to them other than photograph them. Not only is it dangerous, you could end up getting fined several hundred dollars if you’re not respectful of the animals’ space.

Okay, sermon over.

Visit Assateague… it’s like no other beach on Earth.

The Assateague Island National Seashore is located at 7206 National Seashore Lane
Berlin, MD 21811.  Telephone: 410-641-1441.  Open year round, 24 hours per day.  Admission is $20 and is good for one week.  Annual passes can be purchased for $40 and are good for an entire year.  There are designated days when admission is free; check the website for details.

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