If you live in Chincoteague, VA the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July can only mean one thing – its time for the Annual Pony Round-up and Swim. Every year since 1924, the wild ponies of Chincoteague swim the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague where the foals under one year old are then auctioned to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Firemen. This unique event gained nationwide attention in 1948 when Marguerite Henry wrote the famous book “Misty of Chincoteague”. Today tourists can see Misty’s famous hoof-prints forever immortalized in concrete outside the town’s Roxy Theater.
Virginiawind decided to visit the town of Chincoteague to learn more about this unique Island village on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. As soon as we crossed the drawbridge on Rt.175, we quickly discovered that the town of Chincoteague is more than just a place for pony lovers. This quaint town offered unique shops, fine dining, as well as all of the fun attractions you associate with waterfront resort towns such as putt-putt, arcades, crabbing, fishing, boating and all sorts of configurations of bicycles for rent to pedal through the town.
While visiting Chincoteague, we decided to explore Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Here we were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the famous wild Chincoteague ponies in the distance. Even though they appeared only slightly bigger than specks in the distance, we couldn’t help but feel we had experienced something special.
In addition to the ponies, we learned that the Refuge is home to a large variety of plant and animal life. Its many trails offer opportunities to see both native and exotic wildflowers, waterfowl, reptiles and mammals including the endangered Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel. In order to get the most of your experience, we suggest that your journey begin at the Visitors Center, where there are many educational and interpretive demonstrations and programs available. Please note that there is a $10.00 entrance fee and that no pets are allowed on the refuge even if they are kept only in your car.
We also visited Assateague Island Lighthouse, which is also located within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The structure was completed in 1867 and stands 142 feet tall still overlooking the remains of what was once Assateague Village. The lighthouse is still in use today by the Coast Guard.
As we headed back from Chincoteague, we decided to stop at the NASA/Wallops Visitor Center. Here we were able learn about the history of NASA through various exhibits inside and outside the Visitors Center at no charge. We marveled at the many retired rockets located there including one that launched the some of the first monkeys in space in preparation for the Mercury space program.
There are many dining opportunities in Chincoteague from fancy seafood to informal hot dog stands. For our lunch, we decided to take the nostalgic route and visit a Stuckeys located at mile marker 126 on Rte 13 in Mappsville, VA. I longed for a taste of history. When I was a child, it seemed that every other billboard along the highway announced a Stuckeys in the distance. I can remember asking my parents to stop there on every major trip. It was exciting to introduce my son to the famous pecan log and divinity I remembered from years’ past. We were also able to get a decent bite to eat and fill the gas tank before heading home.
So next time you have a hankerin’ for a good old fashioned pony round-up, you don’t have to head to Texas. Look eastward to Chincoteague, VA. You may not come home with a pony in your stall, but you will definitely leave with the experience of a lifetime.
For additional information on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge visit: http://chinco.fws.gov
For additional information on NASA/Wallops Island Visitor Center visit: www.wff.nasa.gov/
For additional information on the Pony Round-Up and Swim contact the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company at 757-336-6161