There is a place just off the coast of the contiguous United States that is beckoning the arrival of anyone who loves wildlife. This place does not know human inhabitants, only called home by animals. This National Natural Landmark, located off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, is known as Assateague Island.
Almost 300 years ago, a shipwreck occurred near Assateague, and legend serves that this shipwreck was responsible for bringing the ponies to the island. According to Atlas Obscura, “There is some evidence to suggest there may be truth in this story, as the captain of the Spanish galleon La Galga historically recounted wrecking his ship “within two ship-lengths” of the Maryland-Virginia border in 1750.”
Though many people have tried for a long time to uncover the ship on the island, they have all failed. Still, many believe that the ship is buried deep beneath the surface of the sand, which has expanded immensely over the years to form a much larger coastline.
Today, there are two herds of ponies who frequently attract visitors to their wild home. On the Maryland side of the island, one herd is referred to as the Assateague horses, because “it is believed that their small size is due to environmental adaptation and a diet of dune and marsh grasses as opposed to the horses’ genes,” says Atlas Obscura.
Conversely, the other herd of ponies on the Virginia side of the island are called the Chincoteague ponies. Although the Maryland herd of ponies belongs to the National Park Service, these Virginian ponies are said to “technically belong to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, allowing them to conduct the yearly round up and subsequent auction.”
The fire department had been gathering the ponies for decades as a tradition. In 1925, there were many fires on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. The department realized that with all these fires, they were in desperate need for better equipment and more funding to put out all the danger.
“The volunteer fire department held a carnival to raise funds and it was a huge success. The highlight was the auctioning off of 15 Chincoteague pony colts that were herded across the channel to be held on display in town prior to the bidding,” according to Atlas Obscura.
The following year, many people came out to witness and participate in the auctioning of the ponies. Because of the favorable turnout, the event became an annual tradition – all in an effort to support the local fire department.
Anyone can see members of the 150 ponies that are maintained by the fire department. According to the Chincoteague official website, “About fifty of the adult ponies are fenced into an area just to the south of the main road and can be viewed by the public. The other hundred adult ponies are kept in an area further north which is only accessible by scenic tour boat or wildlife bus tour.”
For anyone who loves wildlife, Assateague Island is a must-see. Assateague Island National Seashore suggests that the island would make for a great vacation. “Visitor attractions and a relaxing atmosphere make Assateague Island a great destination. Be prepared to have fun, and you may want to visit Assateague again on your next vacation.”
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