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Rip & Go: Pine Tree Loop

Paddle to shoreline solitude, then perch on dunes above the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore.


KEY SKILL: Clamming

Chincoteague Bay’s average depth of about four feet and the Pine Tree campsite’s remote location make for easy pickings of the region’s most famous mollusk, the northern quahog. Time of day, water depth, and tide make no difference. Strap on water shoes and wade in about thigh-deep with a clam rake. Insert the rake prongs into the mud about two inches deep and slowly drag it behind you as you walk parallel to the shoreline. When you feel a hard object, scoop under the clam to harvest it. Smaller specimens tend to be more tender, but make sure they’re at least one inch wide to comply with state clamming regulations. No rake? Catch clams by “treading,” or shuffling along until you feel a clamshell underfoot—but beware of sharp shell fragments. Rinse off the sand before cooking (see Old Bay Paella in The Menu).

SEE THIS: Assateague Ponies
Hundreds of miniature wild horses roam the marshes and beaches of Assateague Island. According to local lore, they were marooned here after a shipwreck off the coast three centuries ago. The horses, which stand four to five feet tall–similar in stature to a donkey–owe their size to successive generations of grazing on nutrient-poor saltmarsh cordgrass, saltmeadow hay, and beach grass. Look for a small, permanent herd on Tingles Island.

Strong winds and currents have drastically reshaped Assateague, especially since an unnamed hurricane opened the inlet separating it from Ocean City in 1933. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two jetties to maintain the inlet for navigation, but the construction had an unintended side effect: It disrupted the long-shore currents, which carry sand north-to-south, effectively starving Assateague of new sand and moving the north side of the island more than half a mile toward the mainland over the past 70 years. The jetties exacerbated a natural process called island rollover, in which fierce winter storms erode the seaward side and flood waters deposit sand from the eastern dunes into western marshes. To see evidence of the island’s slow landward drift, walk to the ocean on the east side of the island and look around the beach for water-worn pine stumps that can be 700 to 800 years old—evidence that the east side of the island is now where the west side used to be.

The marsh between camp (7) and the dunes (8) swarms with mosquitoes during summer. Deet up.

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