ASSATEAGUE — Still celebrating the recent birth of two new foals, the Assateague Island Alliance (AIA) outlined some future plans for the National Seashore last week including improving education, encouraging community involvement and highlighting the history of the island.
“Our prime focus is to support the National Seashore,” said AIA Program Manager Christina Hulslander.
Founded in 2008, AIA has attempted to fill that supporting role through fundraising and engaging visitors. It organizes a variety of charity events like the foster horse program, where individuals can “adopt” one of Assateague’s wild ponies. While they don’t physically take the horse home, foster parents are given a picture and information on their pony and donations made to the program are used to fund horse management and protection as well as habitat preservation.
“It’s complimenting and supplementing what the park can do,” Hulslander said.
As part of the park’s foster horse program, new foals, like the two discovered last week, are named through a charity auction with the proceeds going back to the National Seashore.
AIA’s partnership with the island will continue to grow, promised Hulslander, with new projects in the works for the near future.
“We will be launching ‘Arts for Assateague,’” she said as an example.
Hulslander explained that the program will showcase art highlighting Assateague and its resources, like the beaches and wild horses, and will provide another charitable outlet through which the park will receive funding. Similarly, another effort featuring the ponies will be a trading card line planned for a launch sometime this year.
While the AIA has ambitious plans for 2012 and beyond, Hulslander stressed that the group is just as concerned with Assateague’s past as its future.
“This history is one people are so interested in,” she said.
According to Hulslander, Assateague enjoyed a reputation for attracting a huge variety of visitors for decades, including those who stayed at now-closed hunting lodges on the island.
“They would fly in from all over,” she said.
Though the lodges have been shuttered for years, Hulslander noted that they represent an important part of the park’s past and along with the dunes, horses and other scenery, make excellent stops for tours of the island.
“It’s the wild safari kind of feel,” she said.
Hulslander revealed that the AIA volunteer board will meet in May to discuss several potential projects, all with the intent of engaging the public.
“There’s a lot of networking with the community,” she said.
The board is set to do both short- and long-term planning. Hulslander pointed out that the National Parks Service will be celebrating its centennial in 2016 and that AIA hopes to commemorate the occasion. Other long-range goals include diversifying both the workforce and visitors who frequent Assateague and other similar parks. According to Hulslander, the majority of visitors and employees involved with the National Park Service today are Caucasian, but the aim is to make the island more appealing to everyone.
“National parks belong to all of us,” she said.
Between fundraising and awareness campaigns, Hulslander is confident that AIA will continue to evolve alongside Assateague. Education, she said, will be a big part of that.
“Obviously, we need to protect the resources on the island … We want to help the community use the island as an educational resource,” said Hulslander. “Lifelong learning opportunities are something the [AIA] friends group will continue doing.”
For more information on AIA or to become a member, visit www.AssateagueIslandAlliance.org