Assateague Island National Seashore, established in 1965 as a unit of the National Park System, encompasses close to 48,700 acres of land and water and extends from Virginia into Maryland. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, located in Virginia and managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Assateague State Park, Maryland's only oceanfront state park, are located within the Assateague Island National Seashore boundaries. Home to probably the best known wild horses of the Southeast, the horses on Assateague Island are split into two main herds and separated by a fence at the state line.
The Virginia herd, frequently referred to as the Chincoteague ponies, is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. By a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the horses are grazed in two designated areas on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The permit allows a maximum herd size of about 150 adult horses.
In order to manage the herd size, most of the foals are auctioned during the annual Chincoteague Fireman's Carnival Pony Swim and Auction. The event, always held on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, attracts as many as 50,000 spectators each year to watch the salt water round-up and pony swim across the Assateague Channel. The auction takes place the following day.
The Maryland herd is free-roaming and may be seen anywhere in the park. Since 1968, they have been owned and managed by the National Park Service. In order to maintain a healthy environment for the horses and to protect the other park resources, the National Park Service manages the horse population by administering a dart vaccine each spring to prevent pregnancy in selected mares. The goal is to keep the herd size to fewer than 125 horses.Entrances and Visitor Centers
There are two entrances to Assateague Island National Seashore with no vehicle access between the two entrances. Drivers must return to the mainland to access either entrance:
- The Virginia entrance is at the end of Route 175, two miles from Chincoteague. The Toms Cove Visitor Center is located on the south side of Beach Road, before the beach parking areas. Hours and open schedule varies seasonally. Telephone - 757-336-6577.
- The Maryland entrance is at the end of Route 611, eight miles south of Ocean City. The Barrier Island Visitor Center is located on the southern side of Route 611, before the Verrazzano Bridge entrance into the park. Open year round from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Telephone: 410-641-1441.
- Assateague Island National Seashore NPS Web Site
- Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Web Site
- Assateague State Park Web Site
- Chincoteague Island Chamber of Commerce Web Site
- Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Web Site
- Virginia Tourism Listing of Chincoteague Area Tours, including several choices of wild horse tours