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Take stroll on Assateague to kick off 2013

(Dec. 28, 2012) Why not kick off 2013 with a refreshing stroll along Assateague Island? The 33rd annual New Year’s Day Beach Walk, sponsored by Assateague Coastal Trust, is open to anyone interested in learning more about the island and how it changes on a daily basis. Participants should meet at the Assateague State Park concession area before 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Liz Davis, assistant chief of interpretation and education at Assateague Island National Seashore, will lead the walk this year. She replaces the retired Chris Seymour, Assa-teague Island National Seashore park ranger and environmental educator, who had conducted the informal beach hike for more than 20 years.

Davis has worked for the National Park Service at Assateague Island National Seashore for 22 years.

“Chris retired and passed the torch to her,” said Jim Rapp, ACT board member. “Chris is a great storyteller and so is Liz.”

Added Davis, “I am looking forward to leading my first New Year’s Day walk. It’s tough following such a celebrity, the legendary ranger, Chris Seymour, [but] I’ll do my best.”

The theme for the 2013 walk is “It’s New Year’s Day Every Day on Assateague.” The theme will relate to “island renewal — the renewal people feel at Assateague and at the beginning of a new year.”

“The island is always changing and renewing itself,” Rapp said. “From the sand to the wildlife, we’ll see the history of the island [on the walk]. We’ll also see the effects of Hurricane Sandy on Assateague. It always has dramatic change after storms.”

The walk pays tribute to Ilia Fehrer, who helped create the New Year’s Day event as a way to promote environmental education and awareness, and Judy Johnson, founder of the committee to preserve Assateague Island, which later became Assateague Coastal Trust. The ACT, recognized as the oldest environmental education and advocacy organization on the Delmarva peninsula, has sponsored the event since its inception.

In the late 1950s, Assateague Island was slated for development as the resort, “Ocean Beach, Md.” Roads had been built and lots sold when a series of Nor’easters interrupted construction in 1962. Prior to Assateague Island being designated a National Seashore in 1965, Johnson and other citizens rallied against early plans for a park that included a 25-mile highway and several commercial enterprises. In the early 1970s, she formed the committee.

Johnson and the committee also focused their attention on Maryland’s coastal bays and joined forces with Fehrer and the Worcester Environmental Trust to oppose the proposed Harbor Town development near Chincoteague Bay.

“We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Ilia, Judy and the founders of the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island,” Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips stated in a press release. “Without their vision and dedication, Assateague Island and the coastal bays we know and love today would be unrecognizable.”

The first beach walk was held Jan. 1, 1980.

“This is our way to remember [Fehrer and Johnson] and keep the memory of all the work they did alive,” Rapp said.

The 2013 walk will take place rain or shine, so participants are encouraged to dress for the weather. There is no charge to take part.

Rapp said about half of the crowd is traditionally made up of first-time participants, while it has become an annual tradition for others. Approximately 200 people participated in the 2012 event.

“For some people, this is their new year’s tradition. A lot of friends come together and do this,” Rapp said. “I’m very impressed with the crowd we get every year. It’s a really great way to start the new year.”

After the walk, hot cocoa and cookies will be available. For more information on the walk, call 410-629-1538 or visit www.actforbays.org.

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