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Century of Change

Today’s History Tid Bit is one of many stories that our Assateague Island holds. There are a slew of sources that offer a thorough history of Assateague. Several years ago, I was gifted one such source by a good friend, long time Assateague State Park Ranger, Bill Yates. A small and primitive relic, “Assateague…the Place Across” written by Reginald V. Truitt, is a small collection of Assateague lore. If you come across this pamphlet style book, grab a copy. It’s an easy read that concisely packs a wealth of Assateague history into just 47 pages.

Within Truitt’s book is an account of how Assateague Island, as we know it now, came into existence. Today, that old adage that history seems to repeat itself rings ever more true if we’re to remember the words President Johnson stated just two days before the Autumnal equinox in 1965. Placing his signature of approval that would designate Assateague Island as a National Seashore and protect it from the rampant development schemes we’re seeing across the county today, Johnson said “We are living in a Century of Change. If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than with sorrow, we must achieve more than just miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as God made it, not just at it looked when we got through with it.”

Johnson’s signature and statement came after what would be the most bold attempt to develop Assateague Island, or, as Truitt put it, “the zenith of developmental effort on Assateague.” Though development plans on Assateague took place much earlier than the Ocean Beach scheme of the 1950’s (check out some the fascinating history of the small population centers that briefly established on Assateague at sites like Chincoteague, Assateague Beach, Pope Island, Green Run, and North Beach), it was the Ocean Beach Corporation that made the last valiant attempt to force resort style development on the Assateague’s slender ribbon of sand in the sea. Selling plans for 5,580 lots to over 3,000 individuals and agencies through the use of sly marketing strategies, Assateague was in the crosshairs of an overzealous and oblivious business development scheme. Fortunately for the sake of the ecological health and that kind of Assateague magic that many of us are familiar with today, the famous Great March Storm of 1962 (a.k.a the Ash Wednesday Storm) brought a stern and unmerciful reckoning to the corporations development plans. Shortly after Nature’s use of checks and balances, “a re-thinking of the overall situation in anticipation of a federally developed and maintained facility for public use to insure protection against the rage of the ocean, to preserve the natural beauty and to provide urgently needed seaside space for the general public. Thus was born the Assateague Island National Seashore.”

Assateague Coastal Trust played a pivot role in the National Seashore designation, ensuring Assateague Island would remain protected from future development. The catalyst for the creation of the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island (present day Assateague Coastal Trust), was the introduction of legislation that established Assateague Island National Seashore, including a provision that would have allowed a significant portion of the island to be developed as a resort, destroying the unspoiled beauty of the island.

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