Some of the most gorgeous beaches found on the Atlantic Coast are located here at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The white sandy beaches of this windswept barrier island are a major reason for visitors to flock to this area. For beach lovers, there are many miles of seashore to enjoy, including a recreational beach, wild beach and the Toms Cove Hook, also referred to as the Over-sand Vehicle Zone (OSV).
The changing tempo of tides and seasons help to shape the beaches. It takes the smallest gust of wind or gentlest of waves to move sand in a ceaseless rearrangement of island terrain. While summer waves and longshore currents may build a wide beach, most of the year sand is scoured from the northshore and moved southward leaving a narrow, steep shoreline in various locations. Storms can create inlets or fill them in. They can cut away dunes and wash sand across the island. The retreating shorelines mark the island’s westward movement. New habitats are created --- old ones are reinvented. Plants, animals and people shift and adapt in counterpoint to these changes.
The recreational beach is a nature-lover’s paradise all year round. It is managed by the National Park Service (NPS), who provide and manage visitor contact, interpretive facilities and programs for public recreation and enjoyment. Swimming and sunbathing draws a large crowd during summer and early fall. NPS lifeguards are typically on duty from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M daily during the summertime. Though camping is not allowed, the recreational beach remains a destination for birders, photographers, beachcombers, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Appropriate recreational activities include those related to interpretation, environmental education, fishing; crabbing; clamming; access for boating and kayaking; and other uses approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Not all of these uses are priority public uses, however, some visitors that recreate on the beach also surf fish, clam and crab, as well as observe wildlife on the beach and refuge trails and roads ways.
Wild Beach stretches north 11 miles from the vicinity of Toms Cove Visitor Center to the Virginia-Maryland boundary is a hiker’s paradise. Vehicles are not permitted here. As you walk north you will see fewer and fewer people, and if you go during the winter, you can have the beach virtually to yourself. Make note of how far you’ve walked, because you’ll need to cover the same distance upon return.
Toms Cove Hook provides an opportunity to walk along the ocean beach to Fishing Point and then back again by the way you came. The round trip distance between the recreational beach and the tip of the hook is about 10 miles. Over-sand vehicles also have access to the hook, but a permit is required. In order to safeguard threatened and endangered species, the hook is closed to hikers and vehicles from March 15 – August 31, and the interior dunes of the hook are always off-limits.
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The modern-day descendants of those domestic horses are wild and have adapted to their environment. Prior to the refuge's establishment in 1943, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company purchased the ponies and continues ownership to this day. The Firemen are allowed to graze up to 150 ponies on refuge land through a Special Use Permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.