By Sam Serio
Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island in the winter are entirely different, but no less appealing, places than they are in summer season.. The summer throngs of tourists have long gone, and many of Chincoteague's mainstay summer attractions like the beach and bike rental shops have battened their hatches until the return of spring. Chincoteague’s amazing seafood, however, remains available at island eateries all year long! There are many wonderful seafood stands that sell the freshest possible seafood delicacies like oysters, fresh fish, clams, scallops and crabs that you can prepare yourself if you are so inclined.
What a winter visit to these Eastern Shore of Virginia islands will give to those who pay attention is the chance to see the world of barrier islands from an entirely different perspective.
Coming to Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island in the summer, when the water offers respite from the blazing sun and thousands of visitors crowd the beach sands, it's hard to reach beyond the obvious appeal of these islands to the more subtle treasures lying beneath.
By the time winter arrives on Chincoteague and Assateague, the golden, green, and sapphire tones of summer have been supplanted by quieter browns, grey-greens, and grey-blues. The brightest hues you'll find are the iridescent black, blue, and green patches decorating the wings of the teal ducks which now descend on the islands in large numbers, attracting waterfowl hunters in large numbers of their own.
Life changes dramatically during the winter for the herd of Maryland’s Chincoteague ponies on Assateague Island. While the ponies are summertime's biggest draw for the more than one million visitors coming to Chincoteague each year, all that attention make some of the members of the free-running Maryland herd forget their wild heritage and behave like panhandlers, approaching tourists to beg for food.
Visiting Assateague Island in the winter, after the ponies have had a chance to decompress from their days in the spotlight, will let you appreciate them for what they are: living links to an island past which included visits both from Virginia's Native Americans, who gave Chincoteague its name "beautiful land across the water," and from English settlers who arrived in the early 1600s to begin the process of building a new nation.
In the town of Chincoteague itself, the winter decompression from the frenzy of summertime means kids heading back to school and resumption of the town's official business. But it also means that it's time for Chincoteague's Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade, a festive night-time celebration during which Santa himself joins the Saltwater Cowboys, several Eastern Shore marching bands and fire departments, and some ingeniously decorated floats in a procession down Main Street.
Death by Chocolate, during which local merchants entice visitors with chocolate treats, celebrates Valentine's Day and the almost-end-of-winter. Enjoy enough of them, and you'll have a chance to win some terrific prizes!
Finally, as they are everywhere else, the winter days on Chincoteague are short. You’ll simply have to pack as much daylight fun into your visit before the winter witching hour between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM, when the most glorious sunsets of the entire Chincoteague year occur! By the way, isn’t that Cocktail Hour?
Until the next year, the Chincoteague Insider wishes all lovers of a Chincoteague Island Vacation a very happy and prosperous New Year!