History and Natural History of Assateague Island

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At one time Assateague was a poor fishing community making a living from the sea. Lacking a bridge from the mainland, the island remained rural while Ocean City, to the north grew to become a major vacation destination.

In the middle of the 20th Century, the Maryland end of the island was being subdivided into small lots to be sold for retirement and vacation housing. The developers of this new community called it "Ocean Beach". With most of the land only a few feet above sea level, the naturally occuring sand dunes and vegetation were bull dozed to maximize the number of saleable lots. This proved to be a disasterous mistake when the surge from what is variously known as the "Great March Storm" or "Ash Wednesday Storm" of 1962, swept over much of the island destroying most of the housing as well as a newly created paved road named, Baltimore Avenue that ran from the northern tip of the island south to the state line.

The destruction was so complete that the project itself collapsed and the Federal Government aquired the land now known as the Assateague National Seashore.

Sections of Baltimore Avenue still exist on the island and fragments of the old road can sometimes be found in the surf. The material has a rather distinctive appearance, looking like solidified tar ball containing sand and or crushed oyster shells.

Likely, the developers made the road by pouring large quantities of hot tar onto the existing unpaved road. The tar bound together whatever material was on the surface, most often just sand but in some places crushed oyster shells, which were used in the same manner as gravel.

What is happening to the Assateague Island?

The picture above taken in 1990, shows the stumps of cedar trees on the beach in what used to be the interior of the island but is now the shore line. They have since been washed away.

Wave action and a prevailing north to south current is causing the northern part of the island to shrink as sand is washed south. Sand moving from the north that would replenish this lost sand is unfortunately blocked by efforts to keep the Ocean City inlet open.


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