Chincoteaguers hold fast to island heritage

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 3, 2014 at 9:06 am •  Published: May 3, 2014

Last year alone, Chincoteague Cultural Alliance sponsored 73 events that ranged from free summer concerts at the Robert Reed Downtown Waterfront Park to a photography workshop at its location on Church Street.

A constant hub of creativity, the group's current headquarters is a long, one-story building that once served as the senior citizen center on the island. Today, it is home to theater productions, a wide offering of classes and a monthly coffeehouse where local and visiting musicians and spoken word artists perform.

"It all goes back to the art stroll, where a group of people got together and said, 'Let's bring the arts to the island,' " says retired college administrator and board member Bill Troxler.

"Once you bring the arts to the island, someone shows up with a different interest or skill set and says, 'Well if you're doing that, we could do this and I can sort of make it happen.'"

Playing a large role in turning that collective fusion of ideas into a reality has been the support of the town council. In April it approved giving $5,000 as a match for a state arts grant to help fund future alliance programs and events.

The council also approved building a platform at the Robert Reed Park for the group's musical performances and cinema series held there.

Beyond the council, other local nonprofit groups like the Kiwanis Club of Chincoteague have made considerable donations, most recently giving $1,000 to help co-produce three sold-out performances of the play "Arsenic and Old Lace" in February.

"You begin to get a sense that what we have done with CCA has created something that people were waiting for, really," Beam says of the town's positive response and support.

As a self-proclaimed "Chincoteaguer," Leonard agrees with that sentiment.

"Chincoteaguers aren't typically cultural people, but CCA brought culture to Chincoteague," he says. "And a lot of people, myself included, enjoy plays or concerts. It just brings a lot of different things to Chincoteague that we never would've had."

Amid all the economic and cultural changes that have come to the town, a lot of what makes the island a special place still remains for Leonard.

Whenever he sees someone he knows while driving around in his white Dodge pickup, he still lifts his index finger from the steering wheel to signal a hello.

Almost of all of his immediate family still lives on Leonard Lane, the same gravel road he would ride his bicycle on as a kid.

And he still takes his boat out on the same bay where he would duck hunt in the early morning hours before heading off to high school.

"I'm out here when I don't have to be," says Leonard, who often goes out on the boat with his wife after work to relax. "The water is it — it's my recreation, it's my hobby and it's my living."

Before ending his short boat tour, Leonard points out "Riptide," one of the more well-known Chincoteague ponies on the refuge.

With his bright blonde mane and tail and liver chestnut coat, the handsome stallion stands out among other members of the northern herd.

"This is the first year that he's going to have babies. It's really good to see him have his own little herd now," Leonard says.

Even with a Chincoteague pony, an iconic and timeless symbol of the island, the islander sees change.

But he welcomes it with awe and excitement.