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ACT’s 40th New Year’s Day beach walk set

By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer

(Dec. 26, 2019) Celebrate the start of 2020 with a scenic nature stroll during Assateague Coastal Trust’s 40th annual Ilia Fehrer/Judy Johnson New Year’s Day Beach Walk at Assateague State Park.

Assateague Coastal Trust Communications Manager Billy Weiland will be leading participants up the beach to scenic and pristine views, with Ocean City’s strip in the distance, beginning at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Anytime we can get outside, I think it does everyone’s attitude well and what better way to start off the new year,” Weiland said. “It’s [also] a great incentive for those trying to be healthier as part of their new year’s resolution.

The walk is about an hour long and less than one mile, Weiland said.

“We start from the concession area at the state park and we walk folks up to the northern part of the state park, which is only about a mile before it crosses into the National Seashore,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to talk about the island and its history and Assateague Coastal Trust and what we do to keep it from being developed.”

The theme for this year’s walk once again will be inspired by Assateague Coastal Trust’s online journal, “The Marsh,” which Weiland created.

“‘The Marsh’ resides as the philosophical voice of our organization, which is that to care about the environment, we have to first immerse ourselves in, and experience our environment to better understand it on a scientific and personal level,” Weiland said.

Anywhere from 50 to, at the highest, 300 people come out every year. The numbers fluctuate depending on the weather, Weiland said.

In 2019, thanks to the warmer than usual weather, around 60 people attended the walk.

In the early 1970s, Judy Johnson formed the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island to draw attention to its beauty.

Around the same time, Ilia Fehrer of Snow Hill, visited Assateague on New Year’s Day wanting to reconnect with the wilderness. She was an avid voice in preserving the wetlands and shorelines on Assateague Island. Her family continued to join every year, even coming down from Baltimore.

The invite went out to Assateague Coastal Trust, formally the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island, to join and members started participating. It grew larger every year.

The first beach walk was organized by Fehrer and Johnson on Jan. 1, 1980, the same year former President Jimmy Carter declared “Year of the Coast.”

The New Year’s Day tradition has since been named in their honor.

“We care about the environment and we want people to experience it on that personal level and people are generally more inclined to take care of it and learn more about it,” Weiland said.

Entry into the park is free for the walk, and hot chocolate and cookies will be offered at the end. Assateague Coastal Trust encourages walkers to bring personal mugs to reduce waste caused by disposable cups.

Meet Assateague Coastal Trust staff and Weiland at the Assateague State Park concession stand at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 1 to join the walk. Dress accordingly.

In order to get to Assateague Island, driving from Route 50, follow Route 611 south across the Verrazano Bridge, then drive to the end of the road and turn right into the State Park’s parking lot.

For more information, call Assateague Coastal Trust at 410-629-1538 or visit