By Sam Serio
Native American tribes were thriving on what is now Virginia’s Eastern Shore for more than twenty centuries when Captain John Smith arrived in 1607.Â Â One of these tribes, led by Chief Barabokees and Emperor Waskawampe, had claimed as their own an island five miles off the Virginia coast, calling it Chincoteague, or “The Beautiful Land across the Water.” Â The Assateague tribe gave their name to the barrier island just to the east of Chincoteague.
The Virginia and Maryland Indian tribes cherished Chincoteague, Assateague, and the other barrier islands for their rich stores of game and shellfish.Â They valued the shells of the whelk so much, in fact, that they used them to create strips of beadwork, referred to as “Roanoke.” Roanoke was considered legal tender among the tribes, who traded for other goods.
Although Chincoteague Islanders no longer use shells to fund their daily lives, they cherish their “Beautiful Land across the Water” as much as the Native Americans did four centuries ago.Â The marshes, forests, and beaches of Chincoteague and Assateague fill the islanders’ lives with year-long beauty, and provide a million annual visitors with glimpses of nature that have changed little since the islands’ Â paths were followed by Indians stalking wild game.Â
Much of Chincoteague Island’s timelessness has been preserved in the work of the Island’s gifted artists’ colony.Â Canvases depicting sunrise over wetland grasses stretching as far as the eye can see, or capturing a moment of perfect stillness before a great white egret sets down at Goose Pond recall scenes which would have greeted the Algonquins on their approach to the Beautiful Land across the Water. The lines of a perfectly carved Chincoteague swan decoy provide a lasting memory of these magnificent birds swimming along the Chincoteague marshes at twilight.
The fields, beaches, and wetlands of Chincoteague and Assateague have fed and sheltered countless millions of migratory birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway through the centuries. Â The waterfowl, as well as the Island’s native deer population, were staples of the Native American diet. Bow hunters in limited numbers are still permitted to hunt deer on Assateague in order to control their population.
The island forests echo with the calls of nesting songbirds, like warblers, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, and nut hatches.Â During the summer their songs are joined by those of cardinals, blue jays, and finches, while the staccato of woodpeckers keeps time.
The Native Americans relied not only on Chincoteague’s game but on the bounty of her waters for their survival. That bounty still draws Â a steady stream of recreational fishers each year, arriving in the spring for the first of the flounder runs, and continuing through the summer to head for deeper water to go after sharks, tuna bluefish, and in late July, the greatest of all game fish, marlin.
Then there are the oysters, clams, and crabs.Â The first Europeans to arrive on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 1607 startled a group of Native Americans roasting a shellfish feast, and dined on the clams, crabs, and oysters when the Indians disappeared into the forest.Â By the 1800s The Beautiful Land across the Water had become one of America’s premiere suppliers of clams and oysters.
Beautiful, bountiful, and bright with the promise of adventure, Chincoteague Island has something for everyone!
By Sam Serio
Just a short drive off Virginia’s Eastern Shore lies an island so stunning that its seven mile length is the vacation destination for more than one million annual visitors, each one of whom arrives to enjoy a taste of Paradise.Â Â Chincoteague’s Island natural beauty, coastal charm, and Southern down-home hospitality are what draw them from around the globe to this small place big in romance and tradition.
If you decide to take a page from their travel itineraries, you’ll soon understand how easy it is to succumb to the spell of Chincoteague.Â That same spell has captivated the Chincoteague colony of artists, who do their best to capture the spirit and substance of life on their beloved island in paint, sculpture, glass, metal, and wood.Â
Chincoteague Island can be your stepping stone to the undeveloped wilds of Assateague Island, the 37-mile barrier island to its east which for millennia has protected Chincoteague from the worst of the Atlantic’s legendary gales.Â Assateague is where you’ll find the world-famous ponies of Chincoteague running free.
The Chincoteague ponies, except during Pony Penning Weekend, spend their days happily grazing and sunning in and along the marshes, forests, and beaches of the Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of Assateague.Â They share their territory the over three hundred different migratory bird species which make Chincoteague and Assateague the best bird-watching haunts on the entire Atlantic Flyway.
You won’t understand why the ancient Algonquin Indians named Chincoteague “The Beautiful Land across the Waters” until you’ve witnessed the sun setting across its marshes or stood on the Assateague shore at dawn as the Atlantic waves tumble along the pristine sands.Â Spend as much time as you like exploring the solitude of Assateague’s protected waterways by kayak, canoe, or nature cruise. Cast your line from a deep sea charter for marlin and other great gamefish, or dig for a supper of legendary Chincoteague “Lil Nik” clams.
Step into the Eastern Shore of yesteryear by reserving your accommodations at one of Chinctcoteagues’ exceptional 19th century bed and breakfasts, one of which was built before the Chincoteague Islanders displayed their characteristic independence by remaining loyal to the Union during the Civil War.Â Drift off to sleep and awaken again to the gentle whispers of the surf and the island breezes, and start your day’s adventure with a breakfast of mouthwatering Southern delicacies.Â
Take time to mingle with the local artisans and shopkeepers.Â View the ceiling mural at wood carver Jay Cherrix’ Sistine Shed, as well as his life-size sculpture of a Chincoteague pony foal.Â Get up close and personal with Chincoteague’s marine life at the Island Aquarium where the touch tank will give you a hands-on introduction to both fish and shellfish.
Experience the shellfish in a different way by lunching on clam chowder or crab cakes at one of Chincoteague’s several outstanding seafood restaurants. Follow lunch by crossingÂ to Assateague Island on a rented bike for some wildlife viewing on the Wildlife Refuge’s loops. Put the perfect ending on your day in Paradise by boarding Captain Barry’s champagne evening cruise.Â You’ll be entertained with the Captain’s encyclopedic knowledge of Chincoteague history and enchanted by the sight of the sun setting on Chincoteague Bay!
By Sam Serio
Since 1925 The Chincoteague Island Pony Swim has been the centerpiece for life on this tiny island off the coast of Virginia. Much of Chincoteague Island’s business community was destroyed by fire in the previous five years. The Fire Department needed to raise funds for new equipment and decided to hold a Firemen’s Carnival that July, featuring the first Pony Swim and Auction.Â Fifteen pony foals were sold and a new tradition was born.
Word spread over the years, and in 1947, Marguerite Henry released her soon to be classic book for children, called Misty of Chincoteague. Learn more about this book by clicking here: Misty of Chincoteague information.
With the Town’s permission, the Chincoteague Fire Department assumed ownership of the wild Chincoteague pony herd on Assateague Island. The herd numbers around 150 ponies and has become quite accustomed to the annual roundup.Â This is where the Salt Water Cowboys come into play.Â This elite band of experts guarantee the safety of the Chincoteague ponies during drive and then lead them to the Carnival ground corrals where there are examined by a veterinarian before the auction the next day.
Phase two of the world-famous Chincoteague Pony Swim happens on Friday, when the remaining stallions and mares swim back across the channel. Mares with very young foals will remain on Chincoteague Island until later in the fall season. The Salt Water Cowboys take them back to Assateague in October when the entire herd gets a thorough veterinary examination.
When you visit Chincoteague Island during the last 10 days of July, you’ll be in for an exciting time, along with the other 50,000+ visitors to the Island!Â The Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival is held the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the Pony Swim and Auction and is a great kick-off to this family-friendly event. So, bring the kids and come enjoy all that Chincoteague has to offer during this special time of year. For more information about this amazing Island please visit: http://www.chincoteagueislandvacations.com/ or http://www.chincoteagueoutlook.com/