August 14 - September 14, 2019: Berlin, Maryland
Assateague Island National Seashore - Part 1
As we continued our drive through Maryland, it was mostly farming and we kept seeing these long sheds. And we saw a lot of semi's hauling chickens. We did not have a clue what the sheds were used for and thought some form of agriculture, well a few weeks later we learned that the sheds were poultry farms!
The area we stayed and played was called Delmarva Peninsula. It is made up of "Del"aware and parts of the Eastern Shores of "Mar"yland and "V"irgini"a". The peninsula is 170 miles long and the width ranges from 70 miles near its center to 12 miles.
There is a ton of agriculture, poultry farms, and fishing on this Peninsula.
We finally arrived! We spent the next month at Assateague Island National Seashore which is located in Berlin, Maryland being camphosts.
If you ask what brought us here and why we choose this area to camphost, it is because our friends from Boise Tom and Carol camphosted here last year. They are from this area and have visited Assateague so many times when they were younger and over the years. Last year they were camphosts and said "you should come and do this", so we said "okay!"
Below is some background information about the park and camphosting.
To get to the island you cross a bridge and it is divided into two separate parks.
Assateague State Park which has a public beach and campground.
Assateague Island National Seashore which has a public beach, campground, off road vehicle beach driving, and backcountry camping that you hike into.
We are volunteering on the Assateague Island National Seashore side. On this side, there are two main campgrounds: Oceanside (drive-in and walk-in) and Bayside (drive-in). Two campground hosts live on Oceanside and two campground hosts live on Bayside. We are living on Bayside. We have views of the marshes and Assateague Bay which is between the island and mainland. The Oceanside has views of the ocean : ) There are about 150 sites between both sides.
We camphosted for one month and our shifts were 8-12=AM, 12-4=MID, or 4-8PM. On weekends and busy days, there are usually two sets of hosts on AM and the sites are divided in 1/2 for patrolling. On quiet days, we patrol the entire 150 sites. We worked 5 days a week for 4 hours each day. Wedn and Thursday were our days off. Our boss, Besty has a great volunteer program and all of the Rangers, Maintenance, and Law Enforcement Staff were awesome! What a great group of people!!!
Our primary job was to drive around in a golf cart and ensure that campers left their site by check out time which is 11:00am. Then we clean the fire rings and any trash around the site and it is ready for the next camper to check in at 12:00. Additional things we did are: answer any questions the campers may have; shovel horse poop off the sidewalks, camper driveways; pick up any trash we see around the park; hand out Junior Ranger books and Cooler Straps (to keep the horses out of your cooler - more to come on that later); talk to people; and help shoo the horses out of peoples camps. No, we do not clean the bathrooms!
As you can see from the pictures below, we arrived later in the day with a storm coming in so it was rainy and after we got onto the island, the line of cars to come out of the island we long. This was because of the rain and people leaving the beach.
The coolest thing about this island is that there are "bands" (we call them herds in Idaho) of wild horses (called ponies) on the island. There are 77 horses on the Maryland side of the island that roam freely between the State and National Parks. On the Virginia side there are about 150 horses and the States have fencing in place so the herds don't mix. Maryland allows each mare to have one baby when they are between 2-4 years of age. Before/After this time they use a dart gun to shoot a contraceptive dart into the mares hind quarters. Maryland controls the herd population this way. Maryland does not interact with the horses in any other way, if a horse gets hurt, they let nature take it's course. Virginia does not do contraception on their horses so they have babies whenever. Each July they swim the horses across the bay to the mainland, auction off the babies, and then swim the rest of the herd back to the island.
As we pulled into camp and set up our trailer, our first visitors were a doe and her fawn. Then 10 minutes later a pony stopped by. We could already tell we were going to love our jobs for the next month!
We arrived on August 14, but did not start work until August 15. Our first day was 3 hours of orientation from our really cool boss, Betsy (pictured below) then we rode our bicycles around the park the rest of the day getting familiar with the camp loops, bicycle paths, and other amenities. Below are a few pictures of the camping areas from Oceanside drive-in and walk-ins. Since we stayed in Bayside, you will see a lot of those pictures later.
Below are a few pictures from our volunteer job. As you can see it is mostly using a picker to pick up trash. And...shoveling horse poop from the bicycle path and camp sites. And...yes we had a dead rabbit on the road that Craig moved off and returned to nature.
Most of the campers are very good and don't leave too much of a mess. However, there are occasions when people just abandoned their items (usually during a storm and they will leave tents, canopies, etc.) and we have a lot to clean up (like the picture below). I think our biggest nemesis is cigarette butts. The picture below is from one fire ring. I swear between Craig and I we have collected over 100 butts. Contrary to belief, cigarette butts do not burn.
There are also times we find interesting clothing items. We joked about making a scarecrow out of the clothing we have found: socks, boxers, panties, t-shirts, shoes, flip flops, and sunglasses.
The best thing about our Assateague Island camphost gig was the horses/ponies! Wait, I already said that. Well...that shows ya how much we loved them! The ponies hang around the roads and pretty much run the island. Traffic slows down and waits for them to move on. One night coming home there were about 4 ponies in the road and we swear one of them was standing and sleeping. It would not move, finally Craig had to honk his horn and the pony woke up and moved out of the way. Below are some random pictures of the ponies around the park. The picture with the baby laying down sleeping is Breezy. He is the son of Chip (the dark Stallion in the picture) and Susie. No, we did not name them, they are named, tracked, and watched over by the National Seashore Rangers.
Since we stayed on the Bayside of the park, we had horses which visited at least once a day and sometimes more! The two pictures below are from inside our trailer from the side window by the dining table and side window by the sink. This is one 'band' of ponies: The dark Stallion is Chip, the pinto (painted pony) is Susie and their son Breezy. There are also 2 other females in this band. The were daily visitors to our camp.
This band of ponies is Corky (Stallion with the long blonde mane and bangs), Annie Laurie (with white butt and partial mane), and I don't know the names of the other ponies. To me, Corky and Annie Laurie are the most beautiful ponies on the island. However, there are sooo many we did not get a chance to see because they hang out on other parts of the island that are not easily accessible. This band was also daily visitors to our camp.
Notice the egrets around the ponies and on their back? This is because the ponies stir up little critters for the birds!
This band was most commonly seen towards the entrance to the park. This was the first and only time we saw them in our camp area. Notice the little pony laying down? He is the youngest in the park. When the babies get tired, they lay down and...stay there until they are ready to get up and move. The other ponies in their band stay around them also. I think most of the ponies below were all sleeping.
In addition to the ponies, we had regular visitors of deer (doe + fawn; doe + twin fawns; doe + buck + fawn) and frogs (we called them 'hoppy toads'. We even had a small snake in camp and saw a few turtles about the park.
It was so awesome to have the ponies, deer, and frogs around our camp. Sitting inside during the evening you would hear the ponies neighing and walking around. One time I opened the door to go outside to the fire pit and almost walked into a pony because I was not paying attention. Doh...you had to really stop, look, and then walk.
Below are a few videos of the ponies. They loved the scratch on our Camphost sign and the females were in heat so other males would come and challenge their stallion and try to take the mares. The stallions then 'herded' their mares together and kept a close eye on them. (Click to play the videos - Thanks to Todd for the video of the Stallion herding his mares!)
Part of the Assateague Island National Seashore is what is called "Backcountry" This is made up of a n OSV (on sand vehicle) area and campspots that can only be accessed by hiking or canoeing into the sites. One of the Ranger's, Stephanie, patrols these backcountry campspots on Wednesdays, so we joined her on one of our days off to see what the backcountry was like.
Wow, what a very cool place. You drive out on the sandy beach, then turn off heading inland and end up in very remote campsites. Some even have abandoned old hunting/fishing shacks. The bugs were crazy back there and even though we sprayed, they were still pretty bad. A few days prior to us going into the backcountry, there was a pretty good rain and wind storm. This washed up a lot of debris on the shoreline so in addition to cleaning up the campsites, we cleaned up and filled the back of Stephanie's truck with a lot of garbage from the beach.
We drove the entire backcountry which was about 12 miles and made it to the State line (fence in picture below) between Maryland and Virginia. And we saw a new band of ponies in this area.
Back in this area there were also some turtle nest that had been marked and were being watched. I shared my experiences from the Baja and turtle hatch/release that I volunteered for in December/January. Hopefully, some of the knowledge I shared can help with the turtle protection in Maryland!
We also saw examples of Mother Nature and the cycle of life. Below is a skeleton of a dolphin (we believe) and Horseshoe Crabs which are prehistoric.
We did find plenty of time for fun! Assateague Island National Seashore is in Berlin, Maryland and about 6 miles from historic downtown Berlin. Berlin's started in 1790 and was incorporated in 1868. The population is about 4,600 and it is a really cool town with some great buildings. Berlin was one of our favorite places to hang out and we hung out there many days off and on throughout our stay.
If you remember the movie Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, it was filmed in Berlin! The 20th anniversary of the filming was happening during our stay, so one of the days we took a tour of the town and film locations. Below are two of the buildings that were used in the film:
The blue house below was the film location for Julia Roberts (Maggie) house. Hotel Atlantic is the film location where Richard Gere (Ike) stayed in the movie. His room was #20. And cafe with the blue wall is the film location for the diner in the movie.
And of course one of the days there, we had dinner at Hotel Atlantic : )
Another close town that we hung out in was Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City is about 7,100 population and is a major beach resort in the East Coast. During the weekend summer months the population can swell up to 345,000 and has about 8 million visitors annually. Whoa!
Our first adventure into Ocean City was to drive through it to get a feel for the city. We then continued past it to the towns of Dewey, Rohobeth Beach, and Lewes, Delaware. In the middle of the bridge below is where you cross from Maryland into Delaware and a WWII military tower.
Below are pictures from our other visits to Ocean City and hanging around the boardwalk and attending a free concert in the park.
Another town we frequented a lot was Salisbury, Maryland which was founded in 1732 Salisbury's population is 30,343 and is the largest city on the Eastern Shores of Maryland. Since it was a bigger city we choose to have some active suspension springs put on the new F150 and also had the driver/passenger front side windows tinted at a great shop we found.
And...we found a KILLER pie place. The Ugly Pie - WOW. Three friends started this business 5 years ago and make different unique homemade pies daily. Let's just say that we visited there a few times and tried: Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Brownie Pie, Lemon Pie, Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie, and Monster Pie. Wow...this is a must if you are in the area!
In addition to us camphosting, there were three other couples that camphosted. Fred and Julie were next to us in the Bayside Loop. Len and Barbara and Wayne and Carol were the hosts on the Oceanside Loops. What a great group of people that we now call friends. I am sure we will see each in our travels again! Below are a variety of pictures from lunches, dinners, etc.
Maryland is famous for their blue crabs so Fred and Julie showed me how to "pick Maryland Blue Crabs" at The Shrimp Boat. M-F between 11-3pm each crab is $1.50 and you order them by 1/2 or full dozen. I ordered 6 for my first time and Craig had fried shrimp. At first I was a little weirded out because it was the whole crab with eyes and such, however about 3 crabs into it...I was hooked! This is a great social gathering where you sit and 'pick' crabs and converse, it takes a few hours based upon how many crabs you get.
One of the days, Barbara had a line on Maine Lobsters, so she picked everyone up a few. It was $25 for two big lobsters for me and...me...since Craig is not a huge fan of lobster. What I did not realize was when I said "yes" to the lobsters and told Craig that I would take care of 100% of the prep, cooking, etc. was that...they were alive when we got them. EEK....at this point it is 9:30pm and I am freaking out. You need to kill and cook them when they are alive. We googled how to kill them. Basically, boil them, which is not as humane and we did not have a pot big enough for even 1 of the lobsters or freeze them to numb their senses and then jab a knife into their head. Ick...at this point I was contemplating giving them to Fred and Julie because I could not kill them. Thankfully, Craig came to my rescue!
I got the supplies ready and Craig went outside to "do the deed" and just handed me back the tails and claws. Neither one of us spoke about the "the deed" very much.
Again, our pot was not very big so I boiled the tails then boiled the claws. About 10:30pm for dinner I had fresh, hot garlic buttered lobster! YUMMMMM... There was a ton of meat left, so I picked it all out of the shells and over the next week had it either as a hot or cold lobster roll with garlic butter, or dilled mayo, or just plain.
What an experience and I promised Craig NEVER AGAIN will I get food that has to be killed and cleaned by him. this is the second time I have done this to him with seafood in the last 6 months ; )
Our friend Todd from Cincinnati came to join us for about 7 days (you will read more about this later) and our friends from Boise, Tom and Carol that introduced us to Assateague arrived to begin their camphost gig at Assateague Island State Campground which is about 4 miles from where we are at in National. And...Fred and Julie our camphost neighbors in National moved to State to camphost for the month of September. Since Tom, Carol, Fred, and Julie were all camphosting at State for September, we wanted to introduce them. So Tom and Carol graciously hosted a potluck BBQ at their campsite in State where we had great conversation and food!
To continue reading about our adventures, click here for Berlin, Maryland at Assateague Island National Seashore, Part 2.