Chincoteague Island

Overview

Introduction

Among the Virginia shore's best-known attractions is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which covers the southern third of Assateague Island. (The northern part of the island belongs to Maryland and is protected as part of the Assateague Island National Seashore.) Birds are a big part of the refuge's wildlife—including herons, egrets, swans and osprey—but the area is most famous for the herd of wild ponies that lives there. Immortalized in the children's book Misty of Chincoteague, the ponies are believed to have descended from horses that were brought there by settlers in the 1600s. Approximately 150 horses roam freely on the Virginia side of the island, and they can often be seen from the refuge's Woodland Trail. (There are more horses on the Maryland side.) Once a year, in late July, the horses are rounded up and herded to a narrow channel where they swim across to the town of Chincoteague. Some are then auctioned so that the herd remains a consistent size.

Chincoteague itself is a village that dates back to the 17th century—but its place in the 21st century is secured by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Facility on Wallops Island. There's a collection of real spacecraft as well as exhibits on the U.S. space program. The Oyster Festival, Chincoteague Island's seafood celebration, is held in October.

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