Visitor Center a Must Stop on Assateague Island
By Aimee Havens & Brittany Hardstock
Located on Assateague Island, where many tourists and locals frequently visit the beach, ponies and wildlife, there is another attraction that often gets overlooked as “just another building with lots of brochures” when it is anything but.
Open since 2003, the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center is a unique experience. While there are a wide variety of helpful brochures, there are also several maps of trails on the refuge, as well as guidebooks complete with pictures and information on several of the different types of plants and wildlife you may encounter on these trails and throughout your visit on the Island.
Assateague Island is home to the famous wild ponies which once included Misty of Chincoteague and her foal Stormy; Tornado, who is not known as widely as Misty but is still a Assateague Island legend, and his son, Prince, who still roams the Island. You can often see the ponies grazing in the meadow off Beach Road between Assateague and Chincoteague Island, on the east coast of Virginia.
If you want to get closer than just a road side view, you can take the Refuge Wildlife Bus Tour and experience the wetlands in a comfortable, air conditioned, bug free environment. Bus fees are $12 for adults and $6 for children under the age of 12. During certain months, adult members of the Chincoteague National History Association can get a discount of $8. The tour takes approximately 90 minutes and covers 15 miles of the refuge that normally is only open to hikers. No vehicles are allowed on the refuge. For a view of the Island from its highest point visitors can take the lighthouse trail. Tours for the lighthouse start daily at 9 AM through 2:30 PM. Tour fees are $5 for adults, and $3 for children under 17 years old. For a list of the other tours available to visitors http://www.piping-plover.org/wildlifetours.html
Visitors to the Center will find that there are educational films shown daily in the auditorium. Films are not the only kind of entertainment that the center has to offer, there are also a number of information stations that demonstrate the importance of the native wildlife and their natural ecosystem, an interactive cave in which you can get up close and personal with the plant life on a cellular level, and several other interactive kiosks and games that teach visitors about the surroundings and bring their visit to life.
If the information available doesn’t answer all of your questions, you can ask the information desk staffed by employees and volunteers of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, an organization dedicated to preserving the native wildlife and natural ecosystem of the Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. In the gift shop you can find more than just souvenirs: books, artwork, and pictures from local nature photographers, give visitors not only the chance to see the beauty of these Islands up close but the option to take a piece of it home with them.
The center not only promotes a friendly eco-system for the animals that live in the area, but the building itself is completely eco-friendly. The floor, ceiling, and roof are made of recycled or renewable materials such as rubber, bamboo, cork, and the roof is even made of recycled zinc. Solar panels provide electricity, and geothermal energy provides heating and cooling. They even went as far as to create their own wetland that would act as a water filtration system for the entire center.
Maybe next time you leave the beach, come cool down at the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center and learn a little bit more about these beautiful islands and the amazing creatures that live on them.
The Visitor Center is open seven days a week between the hours of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM for May through September and 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM for October through April. For more information visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco/visitorcenter.html