Assateague Island
Administrative History
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Chapter I:

The Seashore Succeeds, 1965

With this renewal of private development pressure, there was no time to lose if Assateague were to be acquired for public use. Early in 1965 the National Park Service published an attractive 24—page promotional brochure, Assateague Island National Seashore: A Proposal. The brochure described Assateague as the largest undeveloped seashore between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. It publicized the endorsement of national seashore status by the Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments in September 1963 and Assateague's compliance with the criteria for national recreation areas established by the President's Recreation Advisory Council. [29] Three million visitors were predicted annually by 1975.

The proposal called for the national seashore to encompass 39,630 acres, including all of Assateague Island, the small adjoining bayside islands, marshes, and submerged lands, a 1000—foot strip of the Atlantic, and the 10—acre headquarters tract on the mainland. The Government would acquire the Chincoteague—Assateague bridge and compensate Maryland for construction of the Sandy Point bridge if the state operated it free of tolls. Maryland would be assured the right of acquiring additional land for its state park from the Federal Government at the north end of the island.

Assateague would be developed for "maximum public recreation use," with the Federal portion generally augmenting the high—density use facilities planned for the state park. In addition to the facilities suggested earlier, the 600—acre concession area was now envisioned to include a pavilion with a large restaurant and snack bar, a gift shop, a saltwater pool and bathhouse, and a 500—unit motel in 20 buildings. The road down the island would extend to "within a few miles" of the wildlife refuge; it was stressed that it would not connect with the Virginia bridge. Recreational activities would include swimming, surfing, sunbathing, skin diving, water skiing, boating, clamming, crabbing, fishing, and hunting, the last to be permitted under applicable Federal and state laws in the Maryland portion of the seashore. [30]

The Park Service promotional brochure was preceded by the reintroduction of national seashore legislation in the new 89th Congress. Interior's proposal was consistent with S. 20, introduced January 6, 1965, by Senator Brewster with the cosponsorship of Joseph D. Tydings, Maryland's new junior senator, and 14 others. On February 11 Senator A. Willis Robertson of Virginia introduced a different version, S. 1121, which matched Representative Downing's H.R.4426 in the House. Other House bills with other differences were submitted by Representatives Morton (H.R. 2071), Long (H.R. 2101), Sickles (H.R. 1730), and Samuel N. Friedel (H.R. 2607) of Maryland, and John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania (H.R. 6986).

The Interior Department was asked for its position on the Senate bills before resumption of the Interior and Insular Affairs subcommittee hearings in March. Secretary Udall's report to Chairman Henry M. Jackson, advocating passage of S. 20 and opposing S 1121, pointed up the key differences in the bills. Senator Robertson (and Representative Downing), reflecting Virginia interests, would require the national seashore to be kept open at all times (a reaction to local complaints that Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was often closed), designation of sufficient grazing areas for the wild ponies on Assateague, establishment of a concession accommodations area comparable to that proposed in Maryland, and a road down the island linking the Maryland and Virginia bridges. The Interior response argued that the seashore, for reasons of public safety, should not be precluded from closure (as during storms); that a specific requirement for grazing areas could conflict with wildlife habitat protection and was unnecessary; that overnight public accommodations in the refuge would be incompatible; and that a connecting road through the refuge "would all but eliminate the fine waterfowl habitat which the Department has developed through the years at considerable expense." [31]

The Senate hearings ran for four days, indicative of the widespread and intense interest in the Assateague legislation. Among the first day's witnesses was Governor Tawes, who stressed the urgency of congressional action in the face of the pending court suits to force private building permits. "We in Maryland are doing everything legally possible to prevent residential and commercial development on the island..," he stated. "We are doing our very best to hold the line but I don't know how long we can prevail." Subcommittee Chairman Alan Bible pressed Tawes and other Maryland officials to justify the unusual retention of a state park within a unit of the National Park System, which Interior had been forced to support as a price for Maryland's advocacy of the national seashore. The state witnesses remained firm on the issue, contending that Assateague State Park's intensive use facilities would complement the lower—profile development elsewhere. [32]

Following the testimony of the congressional sponsors and Federal and state government officials, all of whom advocated one or more of the bills, a great array of local officials, interest group representatives, Assateague property owners, and others came forth to speak or inserted statements in the record. Favorable to the national seashore (although in some cases opposed to particular development proposals) were such organizations as the Pocomoke City Chamber of Commerce, the Izaak Walton League, the American Automobile Association, the Wilderness Society, the Sport Fishing Institute, the National Parks Association, the Travel Trailer Clubs of America, the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, and the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States. Although some lot owners submitted supporting letters, a majority of those voicing their views were displeased. Worcester County officials were uniformly unhappy.

Philip King, the property owners' association leader who had accosted Secretary Udall on Assateague, claimed the backing of more than 80 per cent of Ocean Beach owners. He urged the establishment of a national seashore elsewhere on Assateague and on Parramore and Hog islands to the south in Virginia. (Parramore, still undivided and unimproved, had been favorably mentioned in the 1955 Park Service seashore survey.) Several owners, identifying themselves as military veterans, characterized the confiscation of their property as un—American. Others decried the unfairness of taking lands from those who had purchased after the 1955 NPS study had ruled out the prospect of a national seashore on Assateague. The concession area, devised to placate Worcester County, was no comfort to those who viewed it as a means for other private interests to profit from their loss. "Why should Mr. Udall want to spend millions of dollars of tax money on Assateague Island and remove this land from the tax rolls when private citizens are willing to spend millions of dollars of private funds in developing the island and then pay additional millions in taxes as the years go by?" asked J. Thomas Stanley, owner of seven lots. "We think that it is completely unfair for the Government to take our land and then lease any part of it to private developers as has been proposed." [33]

State Senator John L. Sanford, Jr., Delegates Russell O. Hickman and Mark O. Pilchard, and L. Hollingsworth Pittman, attorney for the Worcester County Commissioners, appeared to present the county's position. Refusing to accept that revenues from the concession area and increased private development on the mainland would offset the loss of property tax revenues from Assateague, they portrayed the national seashore as strangling local growth. They would agree to having the north eight miles of the island acquired by either the Federal or state government for a day—use park, with the island's entire beach open for public use. If the proposed legislation were to go forward, they wanted it amended to grant the county a payment in lieu of taxes on Assateague's projected development to a level of parity with Ocean City. "We beseech you, if necessary we will get on our knees and beg you, to leave us alone, to not take Assateague Island, to not impair our credit standing or our future," Pittman implored the committee. "Please do not bury us in the golden sands of Assateague." [34]

A document prepared by the county, "Assateague—Worcester's Answer," summarized the local viewpoint for the record. Describing the great mass of the public as favoring commercially developed seaside resorts of the Atlantic City—Ocean City variety with hotels, shopping, and nightclubs, it saw only a tiny minority—"the magnifying—glass nature lover and the bird watcher"—being drawn to the proposed national seashore, which would but duplicate facilities already provided at Cape Cod, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Hatteras.

Worcester County does not believe that it is necessary or that it is warranted that the Federal Government condemn Assateague Island for a Federal recreation project, and does not believe that it would become anything but a barren wilderness useful only to bird watchers. It feels that if the public needs the services proposed, they can be acquired nearby in the State park to the north or in the wildlife refuge to the south. Worcester County believes that the Federal condemnation of Assateague Island will detrimentally affect its local economy with no ensuing benefits. Worcester County believes that the 3,200 lot owners who have waited 10 years or more to see their dreams of a seaside home come true should be protected in their private holdings. And Worcester County believes that Assateague Island should be privately developed with private capital, initiative, and energy in the American way, and not by socialistic bureaucrats desiring public ownership for the satisfaction of those few who do not have the industry and energy to provide for themselves. [35]

Aside from the basic issue of whether or not there should be an Assateague Island National Seashore, the biggest controversy revolved around the extent of development to be allowed or required. The proposed road connecting the Maryland and Virginia bridges was most controversial of all. First officially mentioned in the original April 1963 report by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, it was deleted following strong objection from the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (which claimed it had not been consulted), but copies of the report containing the road proposal were released. [36] With Senator Robertson as their most influential and insistent spokesman, Virginia interests embraced the road as a means of drawing tourism to their end of the island and the adjacent town of Chincoteague. Robertson and Representative Downing pushed strongly for the road, prescribed in their bills, at the Senate hearings and submitted for the record resolutions of endorsement by the town of Chincoteague, the Accomack County Board of Supervisors, the Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, and other local groups. They acquired an important ally in Representative Morton, who had included the road in his bill as well. (A road had been implicit in the original "Morton Plan" but was not part of his revised legislation in the preceding Congress.) Undoubtedly motivated primarily by the need to cultivate Virginia support, Morton publicly justified the road as a means of dispersing Assateague visitors along the island rather than leaving them concentrated at the bridgeheads. [37]

Secretary Udall remained opposed to the road requirement. "It may very well prove in the long run, after we get established, that we can construct a road that will not do serious damage to the wildlife values and the recreational values...," he testified at the hearing. "My belief is that if we put a road in [the bill] now we are going to arouse opposition and controversy that may very well defeat or delay the bill." He recommended that Interior instead be directed to study the matter and report back to Congress at a future date (a favorite delaying tactic). Director John S. Gottschalk of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife was more forthright in condemning this threat to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge: "I would like to state quite unequivocally that we feel that a road in this section of the Assateague Seashore would have some very detrimental effects from the standpoint of our management of our national waterfowl resources." [38]

Gottschalk, whose bureau already had its part of Assateague, was a somewhat reluctant player on the Interior team promoting the national seashore. He and his staff foresaw difficulties with both the seashore development proposals and coexistence on the same territory with the competitive National Park Service. Outsiders with doubts about including a wildlife refuge in a recreation area could voice them openly. Daniel A. Poole of the Wildlife Management Institute in Washington testified against the road through the refuge and incorporation of the refuge in the seashore, viewing each as detrimental to wildlife values. He suggested that a road could be built bypassing the refuge via a causeway from the Maryland portion of Assateague to the north end of Chincoteague Island. The National Wildlife Federation, on the other hand, favored placing the refuge in the seashore. [39]

On June 15, 1965, the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee favorably reported S. 20 with certain perfecting and clarifying amendments, a new Section 9 prescribing a connecting road, and a new Section 10 containing land acquisition and development appropriations ceilings of $16,250,000 and $7,765,000 respectively. These figures, supplied by Interior from local land appraisals and other estimates, included $1 million to partially compensate Maryland for the Sandy Point bridge but nothing for acquisition of the Chincoteague—Assateague Bridge and Beach Authority interests in Virginia and nothing for the connecting road. Whereas Senator Robertson's S. 1121 had specified the road to go "immediately west of the existing dunes and connect with the existing public parking area on the beach," the reported bill was less restrictive: "The Secretary of the Interior shall construct a suitable road on Assateague Island from the Chincoteague—Assateague Bridge in the State of Virginia to the existing public beach and through the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to connect with the Sandy Point—Assateague Bridge in the State of Maryland." In its accompanying report the committee made clear its intent "that this road not bypass the wildlife refuge through the use of a causeway or other alternate course." [40]

The committee characterized its reported bill, especially the taxable concession area provision, as a compromise with Interior's 1963 seashore proposal, evidently seeking to mollify Worcester County and the dissident lots owners. "The committee was very sympathetic to their position, particularly in view of the fact that in 1955, the Department of the Interior had apparently abandoned its original plans for Federal acquisition," the report noted. "Despite all this and in view of the very limited development that existed on the island it was the unanimous position of the members of the committee that the public interest could best be served by the creation of the national seashore." [41]

The full Senate acted expeditiously, passing the committee bill on June 17. Hoping for comparable expedition from the House but concerned about the road prescribed by the Senate, NPS Director George Hartzog met with Chairman Wayne N. Aspinall of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee on June 22. A followup letter to Representative Aspinall over Secetary Udall's signature urged greater leeway for administrative discretion:

The Department is agreeable to a road connecting Maryland and Virginia in this vicinity. However, a suitability study for the location of such a road has not been made at this time.... In our opinion, the location of such a road to serve the several values in the area, and especially to preserve the ecological environment within the wildlife refuge requires the most careful study of a suitable location. We, therefore, strongly urge that this provision be amended to provide for...the location of the road by me following appropriate studies.

The letter promised prompt action on the studies, followed by consultation with the congressional committees before funding would be sought for construction. [42]

The National Parks and Recreation Subcommittee of the House Interior Committee held its Assateague hearings on July 22—23 and August 16. Secretary Udall testified to his induced change of heart on the road through the wildlife refuge:

In testifying before the Senate committee last winter, I took a very strong position against a road. . . . In the meantime we have had some of our people who were most familiar with the refuge study this proposal. We have come to the conclusion that a connecting road of the kind that some of the Virginia and Maryland Congressmen proposed can be worked out, provided that we can locate the road. We do not know at this moment where it should be located, although we would run it through that portion of the wildlife refuge where it could do the least damage to refuge values. [43]

Representative Morton expressed general agreement with the Senate—passed bill but strongly urged that the 600—acre concession development area, discretionary in the Senate bill, be made mandatory. He foresaw the development as dispersed rather than concentrated and suggested an amendment to permit but not require this. Assistant Regional Director Allen T. Edmunds of the Park Service's Northeast Region spoke against dispersal of the concession area on the grounds that more extensive water and sewer service and dune protection would be required. [44]

On August 31 the House committee favorably reported H.R. 2071, Morton's bill, with amendments. The committee's language on the connecting road mandated its construction but was permissive as to its location:

The Secretary of the Interior is authorized and directed to construct a road, and to acquire the necessary land and rights—of—way therefor, from the Chincoteague—Assateague Island Bridge to the Sandy Point—Assateague Bridge in such manner and in such location as he may select, giving proper consideration to the purpose for which the wildlife refuge was established and the other purposes intended to be accomplished by this Act.

The accompanying report elaborated on the committee's intention in the matter:

The location of the road is left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior under the amendment to the bill, the language of which is sufficiently broad so that if, instead of traversing nearly the full length of the island, it is found desirable to avoid most of the wildlife refuge by crossing its northern end and continuing the road down Chincoteague Island to connect with the southern bridge at its Chincoteague Island end, this can be done. [45]

The committee requested an opportunity to review the Secretary's plans before funding for the road was requested.

The response to the insistence of Senator Robertson and Representative Downing, the reported House bill mandated the provision of suitable overnight and other public accommodations" by private concession in "the public use area in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge now operated by Chincoteague—Assateague Bridge and Beach Authority of the Commonwealth of Virginia." Siding with Representative Morton, the House committee also made the Maryland concession development area mandatory in the bill and recommended in its report that the development "be not concentrated in one place." Other changes from the Senate—passed bill included deletion of the appropriations ceiling for development, because the figure supplied by Interior had not included the cost of the connecting road. [46]

The House committee was clear in its intent that Assateague Island National Seashore be managed primarily as a public recreation area, with natural resource preservation secondary: "It will also serve the further purpose—though, except in the national wildlife refuge area, this is not of prime importance—of preserving and keeping available for oncoming generations samples of unspoiled natural areas for study and enjoyment." [47]

On September 7 the full House passed S. 20 after having amended it to match the reported H.R. 1071. The Senate concurred in the House amendments on September 15, clearing the bill for the White House. Secretary Udall, noting that the controversial road could be located by Interior following appropriate study, recommended the President's approval. At a White House ceremony on September 21, 1965, attended by Udall, Governor Tawes, Maryland and Virginia legislators, and representatives of the Citizens Committee to Preserve Assateague, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of the importance of acquiring more land for public recreation. He then signed the bill, making it Public Law 89—195. [48]

Although P.L. 89—195 is reproduced in full in the appendix to this history, a summary of its major provisions beyond those discussed fully above may be useful at this point. The act called for the establishment and administration of Assateague Island National Seashore, comprising Assateague and the adjacent marsh islands with the waters up to one—half mile beyond the mean high waterline, "for public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment." The Secretary of the Interior was authorized to acquire the lands within the identified boundaries, up to 10 acres on the Worcester County mainland for an administrative site, and the interests of the Chincoteague—Assateague Bridge and Beach Authority within and outside the seashore boundary. Properties owned by Maryland and Virginia could be acquired only with their consent. Owners of improved property, defined to include noncommercial residences on up to three acres and bayside lands used chiefly for hunting, could reserve rights of use and occupancy for up to 25 years; however, the Secretary could take full possession of portions deemed necessary for public use or access. Maryland was given the right of acquiring from the Federal Government, upon payment of the Federal investment therein, lands north of Assateague State Park that it determined necessary for state park purposes. Hunting and fishing in accordance with state laws were to be permitted at appropriate times and places outside Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which would continue to be administered for refuge purposes in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of the Army (responsible for the Corps of Engineers) were to cooperate in planning for beach erosion control and hurricane protection, with any protective works to be acceptable to Interior. The Secretary was authorized to purchase public utility facilities rendered valueless by the national seashore (a provision in the Robertson—Downing bills to aid the Virginia electric utility). In lieu of a dollar ceiling, the act authorized the appropriation of "such sums as may be necessary" for development.

The act gave the Secretary of the Interior "through the National Park Service" general administrative responsibility for the national seashore. The Park Service, however, would have to share the island with Interior's Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, which had been assured of continuing responsibility for the wildlife refuge, and the Maryland Department of Forests and Parks, whose park could remain and even expand as long as the state wished. This multiple management arrangement, without which the two agencies already present on Assateague would have bitterly resisted the seashore legislation, virtually guaranteed future management difficulties. Secretary Udall and his Park Service director, George Hartzog, were well aware of the potential problems stemming from this compromise; but as Hartzog would later reflect, he and the Secretary then thought that the important thing was saving the resource—"time would straighten out the administration." [50]

More than time would prove necessary. In the realm of administrative relationships and in the whole array of management concerns—land acquisition, master planning, development, resources management, public use—the National Park Service had its work cut out for it at Assateague.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003