Monday, April 20, 2015

Assateague Island NS

Assateague Island is famous in OUR family as the place my 10 year old sister and her partner in crime planned to capture their own "pony" and raise it in our mid-city garage. Not that this was out of the question, mind you, but the question of pony poop removal (PPR) did slow realization of the goal...
PPR is not a problem for the National Park Service. They DON'T.... and that adds new dimensions (mostly vertical ones) to the camping experience.

We crossed over to the Island on a weekday afternoon and were rewarded with a close-up of Jester's band of painted mares at roadside. The Joy band idled in the Bayside meadow as we slipped into a nearly empty loop. Evidence of their frequent sorties was evident ... We Got Over It.

Soon we met Trudy who was to become our friend and our guide to all things Assateague. She was just completing six and a half months here and she painted brilliant word pictures of the winter on the island -- surf creeping onto snow covered shore and refreezing at the edges, every stalk of marsh grass coated in ice, horses supported by icy puddles as they crossed the campground, a fox with kits, flocks of mixed birds feeding ...

We had time for lots of stories as two inches of rain flooded the campground and created our little Lake Assateague.

The story of the wild horses is well told by the Visitor Center film which extolls their adaptability, but does not downplay the impact they have on the fragile ecology.
The DNA studies have debunked the wrecked Spanish Galleon story. but just about the same time wrecks were discovered offshore...?? The question may simply become WHY would ships returning to the mother country with the riches of the New World -- silver, spices, tobacco -- bring the horses along? Would there be a PPR problem?
With the returning sun came the "ponies" , at dawn wading through the meadow pools deepened by the rainfall and at Noon for a good scratch on anything handy.

Even cloudy evenings had their beauty

The history of Astateague is facinating and varied. The Virginia (Southern) half was preserved early as a National Wildlife Refuge. Maryland toyed with a succession of greedy ill-concieved development plans, but, in a succession of huge storms, the weather triumphed and the island restored itself. We learned a good bit of the land procurement history from a talk by Joseph Fehrer whose family played active roles. The pictures of early camping on the island --by plane, by Over Sand Vehicle and even a WWII ammphibious Duck -- were warmly received

Patty is troubled by the horses' apparent inability to read and adhere to posted NPS directives....

and the overly thorough clean-up of the beach.

There were very few seashells of any kind.

One day we circled South to visit Chincoeague National Wildlife Refuge where, alarmingly, lighthouses appear to be sited in the forest...

That's better.
What IS that outfit?

On the Virginia end of the island, horses are managed differently. The herd is owned by the Volunteer Fire Company, they breed freely on leased salt grass meadows and attempts are made to keep them out of the areas maintained for native wildlife. (Of course, there always appear to be a few escapees along the Wildlife Loop Drive to delight onlookers.)
We biked the Loop a couple times and explored the other bike routes. We saw eagle nests and a few wading birds but the wind limited the sightings. The short Bivalve spur trail took us to the edge of the bay where a curious stilt/shack was crumbling into the water 100 yards offshore. An eagle took off from its peak winging straight for us. He veered just in front of us, did a quick diving turn and snatched a fish just a few yards away. Thrilling!
That suggested dinner to us and we found our way to Bill's in Chincoteague for our own fish dinner in pleasant surroundings with warm hospitality.

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