By Michael Harper
A newly developing story details yet another event that will be suspended due to the government shutdown, which is now heading into its second week.
Every fall the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) rounds up a herd of ponies living across the channel on Assateague Island. As a nationally registered wildlife refuge, however, Assateague Island is closed to the public, therefore putting a severe damper on the annual festivities. The volunteer fire department, which under normal circumstances tends to these herds, shared on its Facebook page in no uncertain terms why they were canceling the round up. Originally, this event was scheduled to take place this weekend, October 11-13, 2013.
“Fall Round Up has been cancelled due to the childish, idiotic actions of our government. We will let everyone know when we reschedule,” reads a recent post on the volunteer fire department’s Facebook wall.
Later the same day the fire company offered a brief update:
“Rest assured that this shutdown will NOT, and I mean NOT interfere with the health and well being of our beloved ponies. Yes, we have cancelled the round up but if any issue or issues come up at all with any of them until we can do the round up, it will be taken care of!!”
The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, and indeed the city itself, rely heavily on access to these ponies. Each year the department sponsors the Pony Penning, an event where the Ponies are auctioned off to benefit the fire department. This tradition originated in the 1920s when the fire company first began. More than a way for the CVFD to raise money, Pony Penning also brings in tourists from all over the world who want to experience this one-of-a-kind event. This Penning and the subsequent Pony Swim (how the Ponies get to the island) were made famous by the 1947 novel by Marguerite Henry, “Misty of Chincoteague.”
The ponies, guided across the channel during low tide by self-proclaimed “Salt Water Cowboys,” are then checked by veterinarians, allowed to rest, and then led to a corral at the town’s carnival grounds for the next day’s auction. Pony Penning and the Pony Swim aren’t just ways to earn the fire department some extra money; the herds must be kept below 150 so they can be allowed to graze on the national wildlife refuge.
The ponies are vital to the entire town. The community’s largest events are centered on the ponies and, like many other beach towns, Chincoteague heavily relies on tourism dollars. Without access to Assateague Island, some of the town’s busiest weekends could fall flat.