Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Assateague Island: Three Great Public Lands on One Narrow Island

July 6, 2011, 3:02 pm

Assateague Island, a barrier island just off the coast of Maryland and northern Virginia, is home to three wonderfully rugged public lands. The island is 37 miles long and boasts a state park, a national seashore and a national wildlife refuge.

At the northern part of Assatague Island you’ll find Maryland’s Assateague State Park. Located just nine miles south of Ocean City and eight miles east of the historic town of Berlin, the park and its surrounding towns offer a relaxing alternative to the bustling ocean resort town. The state park’s two miles of ocean beaches offer swimming, beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing and fishing. The bayside offers secluded coves that can be explored by canoe or kayak, and marshlands offer a chance to view wildlife.

Just south of the state park is Assateague Island National Seashore, managed by the National Park Service. On the NPS property, located in both Maryland and Virginia, you’ll find three campgrounds, two visitor centers and miles of bike paths.

The southern part of Assateague Island is home to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With more than 14,000 acres of dunes, beaches, marsh and maritime forests, the refuge provides habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. Other species, like the bald eagle and piping plover have been restored to the refuge.

Sights to See

Assateague Island is a wildlife watcher’s paradise! In addition to numerous bird species, visitors can also marvel at the famed Chincoteague Ponies that call the island home. The ponies are a small, shaggy breed that has adapted to the environment over the years by eating dune and marsh grasses and drinking fresh water from ponds. The island has also been designated as one of the top 10 birding hotspots by the National Audubon Society.

Assateague Light, a l42-foot-tall lighthouse located on the southern end of the island and is open for public tours.

Things to Do

Chincoteague is one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the country and provides outstanding opportunities to connect with nature.

The beaches on Assateague Island offer opportunities for fishing, crabbing and clamming. Many visitors also collect seashells as memories of their trip.
The beach is also a popular destination for horseback riding. Contact park offices to find out when and where horses are allowed.

Paddlers can bring their own kayaks to the island or rent them in local communities. For rental information, please contact the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce at (757) 336-6161 or visit their website at chincoteaguechamber.com. The National Park Service also conducts summer kayaking programs from the Toms Cove Visitor Center. Call (757) 336-6577 for details.

Fish and Wildlife Service rangers lead guided programs at Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge. Offered predominately during summer, they cover a range of topics including wildlife, cultural history, bird migrations, crabbing and surf fishing demonstrations, and marsh walks. Ask at a visitor center for schedules. The Chincoteague Natural History Association offers wildlife and lighthouse tours; call (757) 336-3696 or visit piping-plover.org for details. The NPS offers programs at Assateague Island. Contact the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center for schedules and information.

Image: Dunes at Assateague Island National Seashore. Source: NPS.