Chincoteague Island: The Unforgettable Island of Wild Ponies

Mention Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and you'll hear the question, "Isn't that where ponies live?" The answer is yes. The narrow spit of land and nearby Assateague Island became famous in 1947 as the habitat of a herd of wild ponies. It was then that the popular children's book "Misty of the Chincoteague" was published, and the 1961 film introduced the island to people all over the world.
During my visit to the island, I tried to learn more about the ponies, including their annual paddock and sale. Every summer since 1925, people have driven wild ponies into the narrowest part of the canal that separates Assateague and Chincoteague Islands.

Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Island

The next day, sampling is carried out: foals under one year old are separated and sold at auction during a lively auction. The remaining ponies spend one more night in the city and the next day they sail back to their home on Assateague Island.

If you prefer not to see the crowds of people that gather for this annual event, but rather see the ponies in their natural environment, there are plenty of opportunities. Ponies are often seen grazing near designated viewing areas in the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge.

I managed to see a pony during a boat trip. The boat sailed past shellfish and oyster beds in the shallows, while bald eagles and other birds circled overhead.

There are other ways to get to know ponies better. At the Chincoteague Pony Center, Misty's descendants are available for riding and lessons. Wilderness bus tours from April to November take passengers to areas closed to other vehicles and include pony watching.

Misty fans won't want to miss the Chincoteague Island Museum either. Museum exhibits tell about local history, culture and people. Here you can learn about the oyster fishery, which employs many of the inhabitants of the island, as well as the carving of decorative decoys of waterfowl and land birds, for which the area is also famous.

Introduction to oysters

My introduction to oysters came from a visit to the Chincoteague shellfish farm. I learned that oyster harvesting in the past has given way to modern aquaculture. I took the opportunity to try bivalve clams and followed the advice to eat them “raw and naked”, without sauce, in order to fully enjoy their taste.

As a lover of oysters, I was delighted with the treat that the owner proudly offered me. Thick and juicy, they were the best I've ever tasted.

A visit to an oyster factory and a look at the oyster beds in the shallow waters around the islands give an insight into the process by which an oyster makes its way from its habitat to dinner plates across the country. And if you're lucky, like me, you might be invited to taste them.

Communication with the inhabitants of the island adds another plus to the local culture. People here exude a strong sense of pride in their island and show genuine friendliness towards guests. Another feature is a unique dialect that immediately distinguishes them from visitors.

Decorative carving on the island

The history of decorative bird carving seemed no less fascinating to me. Today there are about 20 people on Chincoteague Island. Long before European settlers arrived in the New World, Native Americans made floating baits out of reeds and grass to attract waterfowl to nets and hunting grounds. Over time, these baits gave way to carved wooden decoys, and later plastic models appeared.

Some talented carvers create more complex figures of waterfowl, gradually adding other species to them. Making bird baits has evolved over time into an art form. The finest craftsmanship showcases each feather and other features of the birds in intricate, lifelike detail. It can take months of painstaking work to create one model.

Decorative carvings can be seen and purchased in many places throughout the city. The best collection I found was in a museum-like store called Decoys Decoys Decoys. Over 2,000 artificial birds surround visitors in a colorful aviary.

While the highest price for a decorative bird is $830,000, you can pick up a figurine for a small price to take home as a keepsake. The souvenir will remind you of a completely different place where life flows at a leisurely pace.

I was convinced of this immediately upon arrival on the island. On the street, I saw several people gathered on the corner and looking in the same direction. Coming closer, I realized that the object of attention was the mother duck, crossing the street with ducklings.

The observers just wanted to make sure that the traffic stopped and that the mother and children got safely to the other side. Obviously, they are just as friendly and kind to people and animals.

Chincoteague Island Map