A story of sand, ocean, wild beasts, and a little side-trip bonus.
The story of Assateague Island is another example of how humans should not overreach in our conquers of nature. According to the mother of all facts – Wikipedia – in the 1950s a bunch of land on this barrier island was zoned and sold for property development. The prime oceanfront summer houses were not to be, however, as in 1962 a massive Nor’easter wiped all of the development, including roads, off of the island, and, as history has it, preventing the island from becoming an extension of Ocean City. Interestingly enough, the strip of land Ocean City resides on was connected to Assateague Island until in 1933 a hurricane separated the two and formed the Ocean City Inlet (which, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, has remained a permanent feature). The more attentive reader will exclaim “But wait! Doesn’t that mean that the land Ocean City resides on is part of a barrier island as well?” Yes, indeed – the beaches are moving westward and the city has to spend a couple million dollars every year to restore them. But, hey, if your census population is 7,173 during the off season and the city is estimated to bring in over 320,000 money-spending tourists during the summer months, I guess they can afford to keep fighting the ocean. Just ask the residents of Plum Island, MA about how that’s working out for them.
Cynicism aside, Assateague island is pretty awesome – lots of open space, many campgrounds to choose from – some even in the ‘backcountry’, – and the most awesome of all – wild horses.
Those, of course, aren’t wild, but I found this to be pretty awesome – don’t see things like this on Massachusetts beaches, at least north of Cape Cod.
Another thing you don’t see in MA is people driving on the beach. In general (perhaps, as an obvious statement), I found life to be more relaxed ‘down’ in MD/DE. Driving on the beach, fishing from your truck, grilling up some burgers/meat, drinking some cold ones – awesome.
This trip happened in late March, during the unusually warm week when temps in Boston were higher than in MD, so it was pretty hot (80s) especially in the sun yet too cold to swim, and the air was somewhat cool. But with the high sun and the heat the island looked pretty barren and inhospitable. The sand was nice and hot though and I can only imagine how crowded the easily-accessible areas get during the peak of the season.
There is one main reason, however, that many visitors come here, and that is the wild ponies. No one knows for sure how they got here, one of the most sounding theories is that back in the day when the world was in black and white a container with horses fell of a ship not too far from the island. It is presumed that the horses survived and established their own colony here. There are signs everywhere warning not to feed or pet the animals and threatening fines, but let me tell you – nobody seems to care, especially the ponies themselves.
These beasts are worse than the squirrels of Boston Common. They love the attention, will stand in the middle of the road and block traffic so that people admire them, will beg for tasty treats as well!
Of course, as soon as they realize that you have no treats for them, they leave for the next gawking tourist. And there are plenty of those.
You can drive in, but that will cost you $15. Entering by foot or by bicycle, which is what we did, is free – however, the NPS website lists a confusing $3 “Individual” fee, which, I presume, is for fishing. Biking in is cool since, besides getting some exercise, you get to come closer to the animals without having to get out of the car, etc. Running in the ponies is not guaranteed and most likely you will not see herds of them, unless you go into the ‘wilderness’. The park is very large and I presume that some of the animals tend to keep away from the crowds.
In the little research that I’ve done about the park, I discovered that it is a very popular place for sea kayaking – the Sinepuxent Bay side, mostly. You see, there are so many coves, inlets, marshes, small islands to investigate, that you can get lost here. Additionally, there are backcountry camping sites reachable only by paddling – although for both regular and backcountry camping the bay side is not recommended due to high concentrations of mosquitoes. I would definitely like to come back and kayak in the area some day.
In somewhat related happenings, on the way to Ocean City we made a stop at the Northside Park off of the 125th Street.
Take a look at this map:
We left the car at the National Park Services visitors center, but I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. The two parking lots you see in the map – the larger one with the pier and the smaller one with the bike route going through it seem to be the lots to park at. Sure beats the $15 vehicle charge to enter the park and having to deal with other cars. Don’t take my word for it, as I didn’t pay attention to these lots, but they seem to be free. But even at $3, even per person, that’s not a big deal.
Free for foot and bicycle visitors, $15 per car (valid for 7 days). The fee schedule is somewhat confusing, though, see the NPS website.
You’ll have to go to Ocean City or bring your own. One memorable place was Liquid Assets on 9301 Coast Highway – somewhat expensive with a long wait, but they had great food, great martinis, and a great selection of beer (although to me it seemed like they didn’t know much about beer, but wanted to look knowledgeably upscale, so they picked some unusual craft beers). Did I mention that they were somewhat expensive and were packed? Yet still memorable.
Plenty in Ocean City. Princess Royale wasn’t too terrible, but felt like it needed an update – wouldn’t stay here again, although the price was a bargain. The teenage soccer convention wasn’t so much fun, though, especially when they switched our “do not disturb” tag to the other, “clean immediately” side.
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