Assateague Lighthouse, Horses and Park

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July 7th, 2007

 Assateague/Chincoteague, VA

     A little about Assateague:  After the lighthouse was built, a small community grew here, a small village of about 225 people who built a church, dry goods store and a school.  They lived off sea life like Crab, Oysters, Clams and fish. They hunted water foul, deer and grazed livestock to survive until the early 1900's when a man bought most of the surrounding land and refused to let people use his land to pass through.  This caused the demise of the small town.

     The island of Chincoteague is in a constant state of movement.  Over the past 100 years the coastline is not recognizable from it's early form, yet the lighthouse has never budged one inch.

     The lighthouse was originally built in 1833 and measured only 45' high.  It was rebuilt in 1863 to it's present size of 142' feet. It is made of brick and only got it's recognizable red and white stripes in 1967. The diameter of the lighthouse at the bottom is 27' 6 1/2".  It stands 22 feet above sea level. You can find the original Lens at the Oyster Maritime Museum on Chincoteague Island. The original lamp used four wicks and fish oil to operate. In 1963, that was replaced with an Electric lamp which flashes a double beam ever five seconds. In 1833, the light cast as far as 14 land miles, and as technology grew, so did the area from which the light could be seen; by 1867 the light could be seen as far a 17 land miles and then in 1963, as much as 22 land miles. The keepers house is a small two story bungalow and is now used for volunteers and interns as temporary quarters.  The lighthouse is still operational and is owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and used by the Coast Guard.

     A famous incident occurred off the coast of Assateague; it was the shipwreck of the Presidential Yacht (the Despatch) that was used during President Benjamin Harrison's term in office.  On October 10, 1981, the ship ran aground 2.5 miles eat of Woodland Trail and 75 yards from the short.  The 730 ton schooner-rigged steamship was bound for Washington DC from New York city when it ran aground at 3 am.  There were no casualties but the yacht that served Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleaveland and Harrison was a total loss.

     A note about Assateague/Chincoteague and the Wildlife park/lighthouse, wildlife and visitors center:  I would strongly recommend taking insect repellant (we were totally bombarded by flies, mosquitoes and fleas and such there).  The park does not house food so you have to take your own and most of it isn't really allowed.  There are no trashcans most of the places, pets are not allowed and there are only two restrooms on the entire preserve.  One is located in the visitor's center.  I believe water fountains are in those two places only as well.  There are NO vending machines etc even at the visitors center.  They do not want you throwing trash into the park, so they avoid giving it to you.  Therefore, because it's very cold or very hot usually, it's super important for you to bring appropriate clothing and also water.  But do not throw your trash into the woods or anywhere, take your trash back out with you.  Price is 10.00 which includes a return allowable pass for 5-7 days I believe.  You cannot drive your car into most areas.  All you can do is drive to some parking areas where you can then get out and hike or bike.  Only bicycles and feet are allowed on the trails.  The trails can be long; therefore, if you are extremely out of shape, ill or incapacitated in any way,  you should ask the visitors center for special options that may be available to you.  I am not sure how much they can help, but they do have some special tours. 

      Most of what you'll see in the park is just things you'd expect.  Rabbit, deer, squirrels, frogs and insects.  There could be bears or other things but we did not see them.  I did see one female deer eating (from the window of the visitors center) and we did see many frogs and one endangered squirrel.  Assateague is probably most famous for the wild horses or ponies.  You can view them on  a good day from two vantage points in the park.  Usually, they do not get too close to you and are quite far away, but I've heard they occasionally can wander out to near the roads.  You are NOT allowed to go near them or feed them.  They are wild horses, born and bred in the wild; they can be dangerous.  The horses look a little odd.  Originally they were a few domesticated animals that were released here (unwanted) back in the early 1700's.  The thrived here, on marsh grasses and such.  The herd eventually grew and today it consists of over 150.  The herd is separated into two packs, one on each side of the Virginia and Maryland border.  Though wild, the US parks department helps these animals in times of distress (ill or injured) and has tagged them to monitor their progress and habits.  You can contribute or adopt (foster parenting) by donating either by their website or the Park station/visitors center.  The horses don't look like everyday horses; because their diet consists of a salty diet, they are bloated looking about the belly and their ribs show.  They drink twice as much as a normal horse and they are smaller in size.  It's amazing though, to see actually horses in the wild on the east coast!

     The endangered squirrels look like grey squirrels but are larger and their tails and fur are much bushier. 

      To get to Chincoteague/Assateague you will have to cross a very landmark place; the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnels, which is the world's largest bridge/tunnel system in the world.  The bridge itself spans 17.6 miles over the ocean and includes two tunnels.! Currently, a one way toll is 12.00 but you can get a return pass toll if you come back within 24 hours and so the toll both ways is 17.00.  People frequently passing can get an E-Z pass.

      Lighthouse fee is 4.00 to go to the top; there is a landing about every 25 steps to rest.  From the top, sometimes the horses can be seen. The visitor's center is free and offers some videos and a couple exhibits as well as a very small gift shop.

     If you are an antique hunter, there is an Antique mall called Blue Crow Antiques which claims to be the largest on the Eastern shore. It's 35,000 square feet of shopping.

Left to right: 1) Close View of the Door/Plaque 2) View going up the sandy pathway 3) Closer View 4) Full View.


Left to right: 1) Exhibit in the Visitors Center 2) Visitors Center Desk 2) Visitors Center viewers to view wildlife 4) Visitors Center art


Left to right: 1) Frog (can you find him?)  2) Endangered Delmarva Squirrel 3) Boardwalk to pony overlook 4) A small part of the herd with lighthouse in distance 5) another view of the horses from a distance 6) Closer view of the horses (little grainy as out 8mp camera wasn't good enough I guess to get a closer shot)


 Informative or interesting links:


Virginia Lighthouses

My Bodie Island Lighthouse Page

My Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Page

My Old Point Comfort Lighthouse Page

My New Point Comfort Lighthouse Page

My Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Page

My New Cape Henry Page

Assateague Wild Horses

Assateague Lighthouse

Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel

Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel system


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