Heather Radke at The Believer:
On a map, Assateague appears as a long green strip, denoting national park land, and runs thirty-seven miles up the east side of Virginia—the last land before open ocean. Chincoteague, just seven miles long and full of ice cream stores and cheap beach shops, lies half a mile to the west of Assateague, tucked between the long barrier island and the mainland. Driving up the coast from Virginia Beach to Chincoteague I pass areas that are verdant, rural, and poor. A discontinued train line connects abandoned tracks and ghost stations. Boarded-up Victorian houses and dollar stores dot the landscape. But the cliché of rural decline isn’t all that you see as you drive—there is an enormous NASA flight facility and a marine science station on the mainland just before the bridge to the island.
Half the herd of wild ponies lives on the northern section of Assateague and belongs to the federal government, which manages them with a light touch—the most the feds do is shoot annual birth control darts into their rumps. The other half of the herd lives on a small southern section of Assateague and belongs to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which has managed them since 1924, when it first used the annual pony penning and auction to help pay for its equipment.