Assateague Island National Seashore
by Laurie Cochran
September 18-20, 2009
Trip Coordinator: Lee McQuade
On Friday, September 18, 2009, the following ten members of HRCKC arrived at Assateague Island National Seashore for 2 nights of camping, kayaking, biking, and hiking. Attendees were: Lee, Kathy, Donna, Roberta, Lori Y., Herta, Scott, Bev and her daughter Jennifer, and I. It is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from North Jersey to Berlin, Maryland. The weather started off cloudy with some occasional light showers along Route 95. As we approached Berlin, MD and headed over the Verrazano Bridge, which takes you across Sinepuxent Bay to the entrance of Assateague, the clouds began to disperse and blue skies were smiling down on us. The winds were blowing at about 35 miles an hour and the temperature was a comfortable 75 degrees. While driving, you can view the marshlands dotted with Great Egrets, Great Blue Heron and many varieties of Gulls. Occasionally, you see a wild pony out grazing in the grasses.
The entrance road to the National Park (the State Park entrance is near here also), takes you down a long road with a bike path on one side. Grass and low shrubs line the roadway. Along the road, animals like to graze and people stop their cars in amazement to watch and take photos. Small herds of wild ponies and Sika deer harmoniously dine together. The entrance fee to the park is $15.00/car for a 7-day pass. If you walk or bike in, it is free! One happy member found out that now that she turned 62 years old, she could pay $10.00 and receive the ‘America the Beautiful-National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass (62 years & older, lifetime vehicle pass)’ This pass allows anyone 62 or older to enter ANY National Park free! What a nice benefit!
Once you enter the park, you must visit the Ranger Station to check into your campsite. Lee had reserved 4 sites for our club in the first loop of the Oceanside Campground. In his many years of visiting Assateague with boy scouts and other groups, he has found that camping on the Oceanside is preferable over the Bayside Campground because the bugs tend to be worse on the Bayside. Oceanside camping offers a nice ocean breeze, which tends to keep the annoying mosquitoes and flies away. We all appreciated his wisdom!
Kathy & Donna were the first to arrive and erect Kathy’s tent. Donna, Bev & Jennifer chose to avoid the outdoor accommodations and opted for nice, comfortable beds in a hotel 15 minutes away in nearby Ocean City, MD. Scott & I arrived next and set up camp then toured the area by car, stopping to explore two of the short hikes offered through Life of the Forest trail and Life of the Marsh trail. The weather was beautiful and the wildlife abundant. The winds blew ocean breezes our way. The salty air smelled so good!
Herta, Roberta, Lori, Scott & I had three sites next to each other. Bev & Jennifer stopped by to join us and we all gathered at our picnic table to enjoy the fine cuisine of the evening. It was family style dining. We shared hot dogs and beans, fried chicken, salad, sandwiches, sliced cheeses, pretzels, beer, wine, rum & coke. As we enjoyed our outdoor dining experience, a lone pony decided to join us. The smell of the hot dogs lured him in. He walked right up to our table! We didn’t want to share so he left us alone but not until he called in his buddies, Mr. Sika Deer and Mr. Rabbit. There we were, 7 of us sitting around the picnic table and only a few feet from us were a wild pony, a tiny deer and a rabbit, all dining on the grasses around us. It was like a scene out of some Disney story!
After dinner, Scott & I enjoyed a nice bike ride. The sunset was beautiful! We arrived back at site 12 and started our campfire. Camp chairs surrounded the fire and all ten of us gathered to eat, drink & be merry! All enjoyed friendly conversations.
As fire slowly dwindled, we said our good nights and retired to our respective accommodations. The chorus of frogs and crickets lulled us to sleep. During the night, the winds kicked up. The tents were saturated with ocean dew and we awoke to a beautiful sunrise. Several of us strolled along the beach admiring the views and watched as the sandpipers scurried along the sand. Brown Pelicans flew overhead. Roberta commented how prehistoric they look when they fly… ‘like a pterodactyl’. We could see Lee’s kite flying over his campsite. It is a tradition, that Lee flies a kite. It can be seen from all over the area! It is a good marker to locate our area. Just like last year, it was a good day to be a kite!
Back at the campsite, Roberta invited us for tea. What a nice breezy morning it was. We were all enjoying our tea and chatting about our plans for the day. Herta was sitting across from me and had just put the container of milk down when it fell over and of course, the wind blew it all right in my direction! I was covered in spots of white. We couldn’t find napkins quick enough because we were all doubled over laughing so hard! We really had a good laugh about THAT one!
The big question…should we try paddling this morning and battle the winds or hold off until the afternoon and hope that the winds will have died down? There was a small watercraft warning so we decided to wait a few hours. Lee offered some suggestions for alternative activities in the area. He mentioned that the nearby town of Berlin, MD was a quaint little town with nice cafés and shops to go into. Several of us went into town. As you enter Berlin, the welcome sign informs you that this was the town where the movie “Runaway Bride” was filmed! (Starring Richard Gere & Julia Roberts) It was a nice town and Rayne’s Reef Luncheonette had amazing ‘build your own burgers’!
The morning winds died down a bit and at 2:30 pm we all gathered at the Bayside to launch our kayaks. Yes, ALL kayaks! Even Scott who canoes, ventured out in a kayak! He still prefers to sit high-n-dry in a canoe but out here in the windy bay, a kayak is the preferred vessel. Eight of us paddled in the tall grasses of the marshland along the shallow channels of Sinepuxent Bay and into Chincoteague Bay. The water was only a few feet deep in most places! We paddled through open waters of Chincoteague Bay to the northeast shore of Little Egging Island. Herta enjoyed plucking mussels out of the water and we saw many people crabbing and digging for clams in the area. The water is shallow and you can shuffle your feet along the bottom hoping to bump into a clam to pick up.
We kayaked for about 2 hours. The winds were friendly enough but we did get a good workout in the open waters! We headed back and all decided to meet at 6:30 pm at Hooper’s Crab House in Ocean City. It is only about 15 minutes away. Bev & Jennifer were the first to arrive and reserved a table for 10. It was an interesting ride to Ocean City. Motorcycles roared through the streets! We chuckled as we watched these tough biker guys sporting leather and tattoos, pulling over their bikes to take photos of the cute ponies along Bayside Drive.
Hooper’s was packed but we only had to wait 20 minutes. The food was delicious and service was great. After dinner, we all headed back to the campground in hopes of enjoying a nice bonfire and a ‘night-cap’ on the beach under the crystal clear sky, but the winds had once again kicked up. We retired to our respective campsites and turned in for the evening. Once again the songs of the frogs and crickets along with the sweet smell of the ocean breeze and the distant pounding of the surf lulled us peacefully to sleep. At 3:19 am, Scott & I strolled around the quiet campground stargazing. Several shooting stars blazed by us. It was absolutely beautiful!
I awoke Sunday morning to the sound of Scott yelling at a pony that was trying to get into our tightly closed Rubbermaid container we left by the picnic table. No food in it, but he was curious anyway. With one swift chomp of his teeth, he pulled the lid right off. We could tell he mastered the feat that humans have so much difficulty with.
Sunday morning’s sunrise didn’t let us down. We sat up on the shore and waited patiently. It was stunning. As the day went on, the winds kicked up again and we watched Kite Surfer’s as they zigzagged along the waves up the coast. They skimmed across the water like bugs and we watched as the kites lifted them high above the waves.
Back at the campground, it was time to start packing up. Lee had packed up and headed out at sunrise on another adventure. Kathy & Donna were going to head back out onto the waters for a paddle before their return home. Herta & Lori were going to head to the beach. Scott & I would take one last bike ride and explore the ‘Life of the Dunes’ trail. Along this trail we found out that back in the 1950’s, they were planning on developing 9,000 homes in this area. Developers had begun clearing the land when a devastating ‘Northeaster’ hit in 1962. Many people questioned the safety and security of developing this area so in 1965 the area was preserved as National Seashore parkland. All that remains are asphalt slabs of Baltimore Boulevard that was the only paved road on the island.
Back at the campground, Herta & Lori were just heading back from the beach. Scott & I decided to spend some time sunning ourselves on the beach and enjoying the views a little more before it was time to head out.
What a great weekend it was. Thanks again to Lee, our faithful Trip Coordinator!