Chincoteague Island & Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
I seem to have always known about the wild ponies of Chincoteague Island. I’m not sure how I first learned about the ponies . . . maybe the stories of my good friend who has visited the area for more than 40 years, or because of the famous book and movie about pony “Misty”. In any case, who can ignore the allure of wild ponies. The herd stays in the news due to its annual swim across the water to the historic town of Chincoteague, where the foals are sold at auction each July. But this island is so much more than just the ponies.
On our first night here we visited the Assateague National Seashore to view the beautiful sunset. Only a few people were around and dozens of Plovers were having a feast while running in and out of the incoming tide. Then it was our turn to feast. Our friends had asked what seafood we liked best and given us a list; I selected a few items but had no idea we were going to experience them all! We had plump, delicious local Chincoteague oysters; fried clams and learned how to properly devour blue crabs. Then my friend made incredible soft-shelled crabs and poached flounder – all amazing.
The next morning we joined Captain Dan for his 3-hour wild pony boat tour around the entire island. A local with generations of family history, he provided a wealth of knowledge and perspective about local ecology, wildlife and what the future might hold for this area. His pontoon boat is limited to 6 passengers and was very comfortable on this gorgeous, sunny, bug-free day. We saw lots of ponies as well as an eagle and a small pod of dolphins – a grand slam in terms of wildlife sightings.
Later in the day we visited the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and made a stop at one of the two visitor’s centers, where we viewed a beautifully filmed mini-documentary about the wild ponies that live in Virginia and nearby Maryland. The Refuge is a great spot for biking, hiking, and bird watching. The Visitor Centers offer a brochure featuring a check-list for the 324 different birds seen in the area. There are a number of short hiking trails, the longest being the 3.2 mile Wildlife Loop dedicated to bikers and hikers from opening at dawn til 3 PM, when cars can drive the Loop; the entire park closes at sunset. The short .25 mile hike to the Assateague Lighthouse is a must. Check the times the lighthouse is open for climbing to the top; this day we were the last group up at 2:30. There is a ranger and a small gift shop at the base and a docent at the top to offer information and historical facts.
BTW, the Chincoteague downtown area is small, just off the waterfront, with cute shops and restaurants. Bill’s was a great choice for another exceptional dinner.
Useful links: CaptainDansTours.com www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco