Assateague Island

teague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague Island National Seashore,
Assateague State Park, & Ocean City Inlet
Assateague stretches for 37 miles along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Sinepuxent and Chincoteague Bays to the west.  Despite its relatively small size, less than 18,000 acres, a surprising array of habitats and natural features can be found on Assateague Island.  Differences in elevation and in the proximity to surrounding water bodies give various areas of the island distinctly different plant populations. Along the seaward side, sandy beaches extend the length of the island.  Beyond the beach, natural and human-made dunes protect inland habitats from salt spray and ocean waves, allowing shrub thickets and pine forests to thrive. During periods of rain, many freshwater pools form in depressions in these areas. 

Assateague Island is part of a vast chain of barrier islands extending from Maine to Texas. Changing sea level and migration of offshore sediments play vital roles in forming and maintaining these important coastal features.  Barrier islands are highly dynamic places, as currents and storms work to continuously reshape the land form.  Long shore currents continuously transport sand south along the coast.  Harsh winter weather pulls sand from dunes and upper beaches, depositing it into offshore sand bars and reducing beach width, while
gentler wave action in the
milder summer weather acts to restore the shoreline.

Assateague is also moving westward as a result of sea-level rise and the force of the surf through a process called “island rollover.”  During severe storm events, sand is eroded from the ocean beaches and carried across the island by flood waters and re-deposited in marshes along the western shore, steadily narrowing the bay that separates the island from the mainland.  These events can break through dunes, spilling sand in fanlike deposits or even carving inlets, such as the one that has separated Assateague and Ocean City since 1933.  Long shore currents will eventually deposit sediments and close these gaps unless, like the Ocean City inlet, it is maintained with jetties and dredging.

Assateague Island consists of three major public areas: Assateague Island National Seashore in MD and VA, managed by the National Park Service; Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in VA, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Assateague State Park in MD, managed by the MD Department of Natural Resources. Assateague Island National Seashore is administered to provide for recreational use and enjoyment consistent with the perpetuation and maintenance of the seashore's natural environment. Together, these agencies hold in trust a priceless seashore ecosystem of wildlands, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

Getting to Assateague & Ocean City, MD (From Washington DC):  Chincoteague is about 3 hours (138 miles).  From the Bay Bridge, take US 50 East, follow signs for Ocean City. A few miles outside Ocean City, turn right on Route 611 to Assateague Island. Getting to Assateague & Chincoteague, VA (From Washington, DC):  Chincoteague is about a 3.5 hour drive (175 miles). Take US 50 East across the Bay Bridge and south to Salisbury, MD, pick up US 13 South and then Route 175 east to Chincoteague Island. When you get to Chincoteague Island, turn left at light onto Main St., then turn right on Maddox Blvd. to Assateague Island.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 62, Chincoteague, VA 23336
(757) 336-6122

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1943 as a wintering area for migratory waterfowl. In the 1960's a causeway and bridge were built providing access to the refuge on Assateague from Chincoteague.  The Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest which provide habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and songbirds as well as other species of wildlife and plants. Chincoteague is also one of the top five shorebird migratory staging areas in the eastern U.S.  In 1990, the barrier islands which make up Chincoteague Refuge, along with other barrier islands of the eastern shore of VA and MD, were designated an International Shorebird Reserve. This coastal barrier island/lagoon system has also been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and the US Department of Interior has designated the area a National Natural Landmark.

Chincoteague NWR Waterfowl List

Assateague Island National Seashore
7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, MD 21811
(410) 641 -3030 or (410) 641 -1441  or

Assateague Island National Seashore was established in 1965.  More than half of the Seashore’s 48,000 acres is comprised of near-shore and estuarine waters, and the interplay between these waters and the barrier island affects nearly every aspect of life in this dynamic coastal environment.  Located along the Atlantic migratory flyway, Assateague plays host to a wide variety of both migratory and resident bird species.  Because its mid-latitude location is within the migratory routes of both northern and southern species, the island provides a unique opportunity for birders.  The island’s rich mosaic of forest, dune, and marsh habitats offers feeding and nesting opportunities for a wide array of shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and waders.  Shorebirds by the tens of thousands depend upon the island’s protected foraging and resting areas during their twice-yearly transcontinental migrations.

Assateague State Park
7307 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, MD 21811
(410) 641-2120

Maryland's only ocean park is located on Assateague Island. Two miles of ocean beaches offer swimming, beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing and fishing. The island's bayside offers canoeing to secluded coves. The marsh areas have a variety of wildlife, including deer and feral horses. Assateague was selected by National Geographic Travel magazine in 1994 as one of the 10 best state parks in the United States.
Ocean City Inlet
Ocean City, MD

Ocean City is in Worcester County, Maryland. It is the only part of the state that fronts the sea. The county is connected to the Chesapeake Bay via the Pokomoke River.The Ocean City Inlet was formed during a powerful storm in 1933. Engineers took advantage of nature's intervention and made the inlet at the south end of Ocean City permanent. The inlet eventually helped to establish Ocean City as one of the world's great fishing ports as it offered easy access to the fishing grounds of the Atlantic Ocean.



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