Assateague State Park, Maryland

Thinking about a last trip to the beach? If you’re thinking the Eastern Shore, my vote would be for Assateague State Park and if you’re looking for a celebratory atmosphere with like-minded families, go on Sept. 15. That’s Maryland Coast Day, when they waive entrance fees ($4 per person, free for kids 5 or 6–can’t remember–and under).

First off, some general observations about Assateague, a barrier island with 2 miles of ocean beaches, according to the park Web site. In July, the surf was moderate, with smaller swells than say, Fenwick Island State Park. I really liked this park, though, because:

* They have the added attraction of wild horses! While it wasn’t the primary appeal for my visit with my kids, I thought it would be a change of pace from the other Eastern Shore beaches we had visited. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a wild horse, which are free to roam the island, but we ended up coming across a couple along the roadside as we were leaving Assateague, as you can see from the picture. A word of caution, though: don’t give in to temptation and feed the horses. A camper we met on the beach said she had heard ambulance sirens going back and forth frequently to treat people who had been bitten.
* They have a neat small nature center with aquarium displays. I’d visit the center for a quick tour before heading to the beach, then you’ll be able to recognize unfamiliar things on the beach like stingray pods, or egg cases (a photo of one is in the photo gallery, see link below).
* Like Fenwick, they offered beachgoers plastic bags to encourage beachgoers to keep their trash off the beach. Those plastic bags are also handy for storing wet swimsuits, goggles, masks, etc. for the drive home.

Some tips if you go:

* The state park is just part of the Assateague Island National Seashore, which is administered by National Park Service. You want to go the state park entrance, which is north of the national seashore entrance.
* If your primary purpose is to enjoy the beach, park near the bath house (you can download a map of the island on the park Web site below) so you can take advantage of the shower facilities. Bring your own soap and shampoo.
* The Web site said the park doesn’t post a life guard on the beaches after Labor Day, and if they don’t on Coast Day, keep a careful eye on your kids in the water.
* I imagine the camping might be limited on Coast Day, but you can make reservations for the park’s 350 campsites online; the campsites are available until Oct. 29.
* If you want to take advantage of the Coast Day festivities, consider bringing bikes and pedaling along the bike trail to the various activities. They’re expecting thousands of people to come and celebrate from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Besides live music and food vendors Coast Day entertainment will include:

– live animals including red-tailed hawks, screech owls, box turtles, king snakes, whelks, terrapins, horseshoe crabs, flounder, spot, moon snails, and starfish
– sea creature touch tanks
– sand-castle building lessons
– decoy carving
– Native American dance
– guided canoe tours

For more information about Coast Day, call Dave Wilson at 410-213-2297 or e-mail him at outreach@mdcoastalbays.org

For more information about Assateague, visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/assateague.html

For my photos of the beach and bath house, visit http://picasaweb.google.com/GuamTubby/AssateagueIslandStateBeach

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