ASSATEAGUE- One of the highlights of the start of a new year, the annual Ilia Fehrer-Judy Johnson Memorial Beach Walk on Assateague Island, will be held again on New Year’s Day at 1 p.m..
The Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) next Tuesday will host its 33rd Annual Ilia Fehrer-Judy Johnson Beach Walk honoring the individuals who founded the organization over three decades ago with an entertaining guided tour of the barrier island. The theme for this year’s annual walk is “It’s New Year’s Day Everyday on Assateague,” and celebrates the renewal feel when they come to the barrier island at any time of the year, but especially at the beginning of a new year.
The annual Beach Walk will be hosted this year by Ranger Liz Davis, the Assistant Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Assateague Island National Seashore. After starting a career as a first-grade teacher, Davis worked on Assateague one summer and never left. She has since worked for the National Park Service for the last 22 years, all of which were spent on Assateague.
The history of the New Year’s Day Beach Walk goes back 33 years. In the early 1970s, Judy Johnson formed the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island to draw attention to the barrier island’s natural beauty. The committee rallied against early plans for a park on Assateague including a 25-mile highway and numerous commercial enterprises.
Prior to the plans to establish a park on the island, Assateague was slated for the development of a resort on the barrier island called Ocean Beach, Md. Roads were built and several lots were sold in advance of the development, but a series of strong storms in 1962 interrupted the construction plans and the island was declared a National Seashore in 1965.
After the national and state parks were established on Assateague in a manner compatible with sustaining wildlife and natural barrier island processes, the committee refocused its attention on the land and water in and around Maryland’s coastal bays. The committee later joined forces with the Worcester Environmental Trust (WET) to oppose the proposed Harbor Town development near Chincoteague Bay. The first Beach Walk on Assateague on New Year’s Day was organized by Fehrer, WET and the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island on Jan. 1, 1980 when then President Carter declared it the “Year of the Coast.”
The committee later became ACT, recognized as the oldest environmental education and advocacy organization on Delmarva.