Assateague Island National Seashore

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On a long weekend we were spending in Ocean City, Maryland, we decided to take a break from the non-stop coverage of the Boston Bomber manhunt and explore the Maryland District of Assateague Island National Seashore.

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Assateague is a 37-mile barrier island off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. The area is famous for its wild horses…descended from shipwreck survivors or from early settlers’ free-range horses.

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We began at the Barrier Island Visitor Center, just before the Verazzano Bridge which connects the mainland to the island. The visitor center has some aquariums, a film about the horses and some other interesting displays. We grabbed a map and headed across the bridge, keeping our eyes open for wild horses.

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The part of the island just on the other side of the bridge is a Maryland State Park. You have to turn right onto the main road to continue to the NPS tollbooth.  From there, we drove about two miles to the end of the road in the Maryland District.

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There is no road connecting the Maryland and Virginia sections of the island. To see the Virginia section ( Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) you must drive via the mainland to the southern entrance. A fence at the Maryland-Virginia border keeps the two herds of wild horses separate.

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Assateague Island National Seashore has three short nature loop trails. ‘Life of the Dunes’ trail begins at the end of the park road. It’s a 3/4 mile flat trail in sand.  There are numbered markers that correspond to a nature guide that can be printed from the NPS website.

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We saw patches of asphalt buried in the sand in part of the loop. Apparently, this island had been prepared for residential development in the 1950s with a road running the length of the island. A hurricane blew those plans away in 1962 and then the NPS designation was granted in 1965, preventing further construction.

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From a parking lot on the Atlantic Ocean side of the road, we walked down to the beach. We’d been told at the visitor center that the horses might be harder to find due to torrential downpours the previous day. There weren’t any hanging out on the beach but we enjoyed watching the seabirds chase the waves.

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We walked the two other short loop trails: ‘Life of the Forest’ and ‘Life of the Marshes.’ Both of these were about a half mile with boardwalk sections.

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Just as we were about to give up on seeing any of the horses, they found us in one of the parking lots. They ignored us while we took photos (from a safe distance, of course.) And then we saw some more just as we were about to cross the bridge to the mainland. Hooray!

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Location: 7206 National Seashore Ln, Berlin, MD 21811

Designation: National Seashore

Date designated or established: January 1, 1965

Date of my visit: April 19, 2013

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17 thoughts on “Assateague Island National Seashore

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