Grayson Highlands State Park

Discover the Wild Ponies of Grayson Highlands

February 19, 2013, 9:59 am

By Heather Crowley

Across the country, citizens are familiar with the famed wild ponies of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which draw large crowds every summer. The herd is now a tourist attraction and the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim is the highlight of summer for visitors.

But nestled in the majestic, rolling slopes of the Appalachians lives a remote colony that half a century has forgotten. In the far reaches of southwestern Virginia, wild ponies playfully scamper across the pristine meadows and enjoy a freedom few animals now experience.

The ponies live in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, which is located adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson National Forest. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, located in the forest, plays host to the ponies as well. With their habitat protected by the state park and national forest, few disturb the smaller than normal animals.

Currently, about 100 ponies reside in the Mount Rogers area while 45 call Grayson Highlands home. The ponies arrived in the serene and picturesque mountains in 1974 when locals needed a method to manage the “bald” areas from growing back over. The overgrown areas made travelng and hiking difficult.

Where previous attempts with cattle and goats failed, the ponies succeeded. The ponies were left to their own devices and are not given food or shelter by humans. The animals forage for grasses and make due.

The population is monitored in order to prevent overgrazing and ensure that the herd can sustain itself. Each year, some of the animals are auctioned off at the Grayson Highlands State Park Fall Festival to keep the numbers in check.

So where can you spot these mysterious creatures? Nobody knows exactly where the ponies are at any given time, so the best way to try to spot the ponies is by hiking on one of the many trails. One of the best routes to try and track the ponies is by taking the Rhododendron Trail to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail.

The Massie Gap Meadows is a favorite spot of the ponies. Trails that lead off to Mt. Rogers are also a high volume area, as both herds are in the area. Keep in mind that, although the ponies are familiar with seeing people, they are still wild animals. Please do not get too close or attempt to touch the ponies.

Learn more about the ponies and how you can help preserve the park by visiting Friends of Grayson Highlands State Park.

Photo courtesy of NPS