Assateague Island
Administrative History
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Chapter VI:

In October 1970 Superintendent Bertrum C. Roberts submitted a status report on seashore development to the Maryland Legislative Council. He noted the legislated development mandates and their incorporation in the master plan, the public opposition that had arisen, and Director George B. Hartzog's position in June 1969 that the National Park Service would seek no development funding other than for day—use facilities near the bridges for the next five years while encouraging private visitor accommodations on the mainland (Chapter III). In conclusion he stated:

In general, use and enjoyment of Assateague is progressing satisfactorily; and it in no way alarms the National Park Service that substantial development is not taking place. If this is necessary, there is time for that in the future; and we are reluctant to use the resource adversely to meet current trends that may become a problem later. During this interim period, it is obvious from visitor reaction that, for the most part, the sentiment is to retain the natural characteristics of the island with a bare minimum of visitor day—use facilities; and this is the immediate goal of the National Park Service for Assateague Island. [1]

Upon enactment of the 1976 legislation repealing the original development mandates and completion of its prescribed comprehensive general management plan, this immediate goal became the ultimate goal. The story of physical development at Assateague is therefore a short one. By and large, the seashore has made do with what it inherited on the ground and with the very minimum of new construction needed to accommodate the beach—going public.


Among the first priorities in Maryland was the mainland headquarters building. In the absence of such a facility, Superintendent Roberts and his staff had to rent office space seven miles away in Berlin and could provide little visible Park Service presence at Assateague.

headquarters/visitor center
New seashore headquarters and visitor center, Maryland, 1967.

Upon acquisition of the 10—acre headquarters tract in July 1966 (Chapter II), the Service contracted with W. G. Marshall of Ocean City for construction of the headquarters building and parking area. The job was completed for $165,542 in June 1967. Roberts and his seashore staff and John E. Ritchie and his land acquisition team moved in the following month. They now had a place to "fly the flag" and greet visitors with information on the national seashore's present offerings and future plans.

In September 1969 an adjoining maintenance and storage building costing $71,228 was completed by Tolson Building Systems of Harrisonburg, Virginia, to be followed by a $74,200 package sewage treatment plant installed by W.R. Hall of Norfolk in May 1970. [2] Unfortunately, the garage space provided for vehicle storage ultimately had to be taken over for offices, forcing the seashore's fleet out into the corrosive salt air.

On the island, a temporary two—mile sand clay road was completed to the south boundary of Assateague State Park in May 1967. It joined a 1-1/2—mile sand clay road with a 500—car parking lot completed in the Service's North Beach area in October 1969. Scott and Wimbrow, Inc., of Berlin undertook the latter job for $334,928. In April 1971 the Federal segment was resurfaced at a cost of $10,275. [3]

An acceptable permanent access road through the state park was blocked by the state's campground development plans and generally tense relations with the state park administrators until 1972 (Chapter IV). After the impasse was broken, construction by both the state and the Service proceeded between 1973 and 1975. The road was deliberately made crooked, with short sight lines, to enforce low speed travel and preclude any impression that it might be the beginning of the discredited connection to Virginia. Superintendent Thomas F. Norris, Jr., mindful of the sensitive nature of the road, was careful to clear its alignment with Judith C. Johnson of the watchdog Committee to Preserve Assateague before construction. [4]

The first temporary facilities in Maryland for day users and campers were installed at North Beach in 1968. Included were a 50—car clay parking lot one—half mile south of the state park for day users, a campground without designated sites in the inner dune area, pump water, and chemical toilets supplied and served by Boggs Water and Sewage, Inc., of Salisbury. In 1969-70 a bathhouse was built with day labor for $30,000. Also ready for the 1970 season was a campground with 126 marked spaces, three walk—in campsites with tables and chemical toilets along the beach to the south, and a designated "bullpen" some four miles below North Beach for self-contained oversand vehicle campers. [5]

In 1967 the Service acquired the Paul Bradley house, 1—1/2 miles south of the state park, and reconditioned it as a VIP residence. Beginning in 1969 it was used as quarters for seasonal employees. [6] It served this purpose until 1981, when its deteriorated condition led to its abandonment and demolition by burning the following year; two nearby trailers housing seasonals were also removed. Their function was transferred to the Thomas B. McCabe house north of the state park, which had been vacated by McCabe upon the expiration of his retained occupancy rights in November 1979 (Chapter II).

The park had requested funds for removal of the McCabe house and other former private residences intruding upon Assateague's natural scene by May 1980. To answer conservationists' concerns that its use for seasonal housing might lead to Federal investment perpetuating the McCabe house, Superintendent Richard S. Tousley assured Judith Johnson that there was no change in the Service's long—term goal of removing nonessential structures and that no significant work would be done to protect the house from the advancing ocean. The McCabe house will nevertheless be retained for the foreseeable future until new seasonal housing is built in the headquarters area, and protective dune stabilization will be undertaken to forestall its loss. [7]


The Service's major development concern in Virginia was redevelopment of the facilities inherited from the Chincoteague—Assateague Bridge and Beach Authority in October 1966.

The Chincoteague—Assateague bridge posed the biggest problem. Inspecting the 50-year—old structure upon its acquisition, NPS civil engineers found serious rust penetration of its four—span steel trusses. Increased tidal velocities caused by construction of a causeway approach when the bridge was relocated from New Jersey in 1962 had led to undercutting and scouring of the concrete abutments. "All in all, this structure was 'Rube Goldberged' and we are seeing the results," Regional Director Chester L. Brooks commented in 1976. [8]

A Bureau of Public Roads inspection in 1968 forced interim repairs the following year to keep the bridge open with reduced speed and load limits. In October 1973 a portion of the causeway west of the bridge collapsed during unusually high tides, closing the Virginia portion of Assateague to vehicle traffic for 10 days. Finally in 1976, planning proceeded with the Federal Highway Administration for a new reinforced concrete span. With the obstructing causeway removed, the replacement would be 400 feet longer than the original. Sanford and Son Construction Company of Sanford, North Carolina, began work October 27, 1977, and the new bridge opened to traffic in December 1979. Some work remained to be completed before the final inspection July 16, 1980. A much smaller span over Sheepshead Creek, just west of the main bridge, was constructed simultaneously. The total project cost $2,448,813. [9]

The Service also found the Authority's beach parking area and concession—operated bathhouse and food service facility at Toms Cove to be in deplorable condition. The unpaved parking area became a quagmire in wet weather. The bathhouse and Roundup Restaurant were shabby and unsanitary. In July 1967 an enlarged bathhouse with showers was completed by W.G. Marshall, the headquarters building contractor, for $59,731. Improvements to the food concession, parking lot, and entrance road followed in 1968—69. [10]

In the spring of 1966, the Service had established its presence in Virginia with a 26—foot white Pease geodesic dome in the traffic circle at the beginning of the access road to Assateague (Chapter V). A larger 39—foot Pease dome was erected at the beach end in 1968 for information, ranger, and first aid services. [11] No longer used for seashore information, the small dome became an office for the bridge repair project in 1969. The next year it was turned over to the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce under special use permit. When the Service transferred the land to Accomack County in 1972 the dome was given to the chamber, which ultimately replaced it with a conventional modern structure.

In 1977 the Roundup Restaurant inherited from the Authority concessioner was moved and extensively renovated to serve as the Toms Cove Visitor Center. Of this project Interpretive Specialist Gerald W. Sielaff wrote admiringly, "Helen Schreider, and Kip Stowell of HFC [Harpers Ferry Center] and Earl Estes, Larry Points, and Roy Ross of ASIS [Assateague Island National Seashore] have shown that while one can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, one can make an impressive visitor center out of a clam shack." [12] The renovation was completed in 1979. When the information function moved in, the dome at the beach was turned over to park maintenance.

The Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station was used for seasonal quarters and storage after its acquisition by the Service in 1967. In July 1970 Representative Thomas N. Downing of Virginia sought extension of the road down Toms Cove Hook for additional beach access; the Service complied the following spring by upgrading the existing sand trail (with slag on a clay base) some two miles to the former Coast Guard station. At the head of the road extension it erected a screened ampitheater for evening interpretive programs. [13]

The ultimate fate of all fixed development on Assateague was vividly illustrated in a November 1981 storm. Most strikingly affecting the public use development at the hook, it breached the protective dune line, inundated the bathhouses, and forced the Service to retreat behind a new artificial dune constructed back from the original.

As it had done in the early 1970s following previous storms, the Service would rebuild the Toms Cove road and visitor facilities a bit farther inland, but with renewed awareness that all its works would be temporary. Increased respect for the inevitability of natural processes had sharply altered not only the magnitude of the mid—1960s development proposals but the expected lifespan of any Assateague development, present or future. The concept of expendability had come to replace the notion of permanence on the mobile island resource.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003