None of us were surprised to see a lighthouse on Assateague. After all, if you’re in a coastal area, lighthouses are pretty standard. Growing up in Michigan, I saw lighthouses everywhere. So, none of us thought anything of the lighthouse on Assateague when we first saw it.
We decided to walk out to the lighthouse for a visit, and we followed the path through the forest to the small clearing where the lighthouse stands. This was no small feat, mind you – although the path was only about 400 yards long, it was swarming with mosquitoes. As I’ve mentioned before, Assateague does not have the most hospitable natural environment. But I digress.
When we got to the lighthouse, we found it to be a cute little lighthouse, like any other. Its red and white stripes certainly make it fit in with your typical idea of a lighthouse. And given that nearby Chincoteague has a strong maritime culture, it makes sense that there would be a lighthouse in that spot.
Except, it doesn’t really.
I didn’t notice the oddity until we were at Tom’s Cove, at the other end of the island, reading an information plaque by the beach there. At Tom’s Cove, there’s a visitors’ center, and along the observation deck, they have information plaques explaining all the things you can see from that point. Over the treeline, you can just barely see the top of the lighthouse. So, there was a little blurb about the lighthouse.
The original lighthouse was built in 1833, but sailors quickly found that it was no good. It was too short to be seen over the tops of the trees that cover the island. So that lighthouse was torn down, and in 1867 a new, 142-foot tall lighthouse was built in its place. This is the lighthouse that stands today; the light itself is maintained by the Coast Guard, while the building is maintained by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
That wasn’t the odd part. While I was reading this sign, I realized that I hadn’t noticed a very important detail before: Normally, lighthouses are either high up on a cliff or right by the water’s edge. This lighthouse is neither. Assateague is comprised almost entirely of sand, meaning that the island itself shifts around. When the lighthouse was built in 1867, it was on the shoreline. Due to the shifting sand dunes, it’s now almost 5 miles away from the Chincoteague Inlet, which it was supposed to help mariners navigate.
Just another reminder that when you pay attention to little details, your trip can be a lot more *ahem* illuminating.
Visiting the Assateague Lighthouse:
Getting there: The Assateague Lighthouse is located on Assateague Island, and is therefore within the grounds of the Assateague National Seashore. From Chincoteague, you can either drive or follow the foot and bike path into the park. Once in the park, there is a small parking lot for the lighthouse footpath, and you’ll need to walk from there. The entire loop is roughly 400 yards.
Admission: If you drive into the park, there is a vehicle fee. You can look into park passes here. Once you get to the lighthouse, there is an admission fee of $5 for adults and $3 for children to climb up to the light.
Opening hours: The lighthouse is open to the public between 9 and 3 daily, with a lunch closure from 12 to 12:30.
Good to know: Apply bug spray liberally before walking out there. Those mosquitoes are vicious little things. Ye be warned.