(Dec. 28, 2018) Celebrate the start of 2019 with a scenic nature walk during Assateague Coastal Trust’s 39th annual Ilia Fehrer/Judy Johnson New Year’s Day Beach Walk at Assateague State Park.
“This is an excellent way to get outside and experience the island during a time of year that offers an experience you won’t get during other times of the year,” ACT Communications Manager Billy Weiland said. “By putting ourselves out there in environments and learning new things about them, we develop a refined respect for them and are more inclined to care about them and ensure such natural resources, like Assateague, are protected from any kind of environmental harm.”
Weiland will be leading participants up the beach to scenic and pristine views, with Ocean City’s strip in the distance, beginning at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. He is taking over for former National State Park Service Ranger Chris Seymour, who had led the walk for more than three decades.
The walk is about an hour long and less than one mile, Weiland said. The theme for this year’s walk comes from ACT’s online journal, “The Marsh.”
“I developed ‘The Marsh’ a little over a year ago and I am the author of its stories,” Weiland said. “It resides as the philosophical voice of our organization, which is that to care about the environment, we have to first immerse ourselves in, and experience our environment to better understand it on a scientific and personal level.
“Assateague never fails to offer something new to see or think about,” he continued. “As a barrier island it is constantly ‘on the move.’ Native and migratory bird species are usually always fairly easy to find anywhere on the island, depending on wind and weather. This time of year, the beach is scoured pretty well in areas from increased swell activity, so it’s not rare to find a few cool things that would normally be buried under the sand during the spring and summer (such as old wood planks, seas glass [and] sought after shells, etc.).”
Anywhere from 175 to 300 people come out every year. The numbers fluctuate depending on the weather, Weiland said.
“Last year was a wicked cold New Year’s Day walk,” Weiland said. “I believe our wind chill was in the single digits with noerheast wind at about 25 [knots]. That said, about 60 people came out and we shortened our walk to an hour.”
In the early 1970s, Judy Johnson formed the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island to draw attention to its beauty.
Around the same time, Ilia Fehrer of Snow Hill, visited Assateague on New Year’s Day wanting to reconnect with the wilderness. She was an avid voice in preserving the wetlands and shorelines on Assateague Island. Her family continued to join every year, even coming down from Baltimore.
The invite went out to Assateague Coastal Trust, formally the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island, to join and members started participating. It grew larger every year.
The first beach walk was organized by Fehrer and Johnson on Jan. 1, 1980, the same year former President Jimmy Carter declared “Year of the Coast.”
The New Year’s Day tradition is now named in their honor.
“I hope to see a lot of members from our community join us for this walk,” Weiland said. “I’ve been with ACT for a little over a year now and feel privileged to be leading our long legacy of this event.”
Entry into the park is free for the walk, and hot chocolate and cookies will be offered at the end. ACT encourages walkers to bring personal mugs to reduce waste caused by disposable cups.
Meet ACT staff and Weiland at the Assateague State Park concession stand at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 1 to join the walk and make sure to dress accordingly.
From Route 50, follow Route 611 south across the Verrazano Bridge, then drive to the end of the road and turn right into the State Park’s parking lot.
For more information, call ACT at 410-629-1538 or visit ACTforBays.org.