“Oh Give Me a Home, Where the Wild Ponies Roam…”
Explore beautiful Assateague State Park as you venture through the habitat of the famous wild horses. People and wildlife share similar basic needs; we all need a place to live and to find food, water, shelter, and space. Your Park Quest adventure will take you on a journey across the island to discover the habitat components that keep the horses thriving on Assateague. You’ll look for clues for other wildlife and plants that share this habitat and will need to use your keen observation skills to create an “Island Field Guide.” Watch for animals scurrying across the sand, flying through the sky, and dancing in the waves, or find the signs they leave behind -- footprints, rubbings, even scat! Pick up an instruction packet from our Campground Office; then get ready to start your Habitat Trek. Use a park-provided map to transect the island and visit the various habitat zones. You may be surprised at the diversity of life that abounds!
Participants should check in with their Park Quest Passport at the Assateague State Park Campground Office between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, seven days a week. Staff members will then provide you with a park map, instruction sheet, (including field guide packet and pens/pencils) and complimentary Day Use parking pass to allow you access into the park, valid that day until sunset. Once you park your vehicle in the Day Use lot, you will begin your self-guided journey as you travel on foot to traverse the island, a walking tour of approximately two miles roundtrip. We recommend comfortable shoes for walking in sand and on paved trail surfaces. Paved trail surfaces are ADA accessible, and beach wheelchairs are available for check-out at the Campground Office for participants requiring their use. For your Assateague Quest, you won’t need any specialized equipment, but we suggest bringing along sunscreen, bug spray, drinking water, and a clipboard and binoculars if you like. The Park Quest should take a minimum of two hours, but you may choose to linger and explore the various habitats (beach, saltmarsh, and shrub/thicket) for a bit longer if your schedule permits. Once you have completed the task, bring your “Island Field Guide” packet back to the Campground Office to receive your Passport stamp.
Directions to Assateague State Park
- Assateague State Park is located in the eastern portion of the state in Worcester County, 8 miles
south of Ocean City. The park may be reached via MD RT 50 east to MD RT 611.
- Make a reservation to stay at the park.
A Little History
Barrier islands such as Assateague are formed and maintained by the movement of sand within the littoral zone (the part of the ocean closest to the shore). Within the zone, sand continually moves both across and along the beach, either north or south depending on
conditions. The net movement at Assateague is about 175,000 cubic yards of sand to the south.
In August of 1933, the northern portion of Assateague Island was changed forever when the Ocean City inlet was formed during a large hurricane. The inlet has been devastating to north Assateague Island. Prior to the inlet, Assateague received a continual littoral supply of sand from Fenwick Island. Immediately following jetty installation, the rate of recession jumped to 30 to 40 feet per year as the flow of sand was interrupted. Currents into and out of the inlet caused some of the sand to move into the coastal bay during flood tides, depositing most around the oceanside of the inlet during ebb tides, creating the ebb and flood shoals.
Assateague Island, like all barrier islands, has sand dunes stretching along its coast. Sand dunes provide protection against damaging coastal storms by absorbing wave energy and offer protection by acting as major sand storage areas which replenish sand to eroded beaches during storm events. Without sand dunes, storm waves rush inland and flood properties.
Dunes are unstable - subject to the ravages of wind and water. Beachgrass helps build and stabilize dunes. To promote new dune growth and to help protect inland properties from the ravages of flood waters, we must limit – and sometimes prohibit – people and vehicles from crossing dunes in all but designated areas. This especially applies to beachgrass, which has thick, brittle stalks that can easily be broken and destroyed by pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Blades of grass help trap wind blown sand which can create new dunes and expand existing dunes. Electric fence is currently in use throughout Assateague State Park to limit horse incursion onto the delicate dunes, and also to direct visitors to pedestrian crossovers, located all along the beach. During your visit to Assateague, use only designated crossovers to access the beach and please respect the fragile environment by staying off all dunes, even those that do not have fencing around them.