Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Environmental Studies

Thesis Type

Honors College, College of Arts and Science Honors, Environmental Studies Electronic Thesis

First Advisor

Harlan Morehouse

Second Advisor

Cherie Morse


ethnographic, value-survey, wildness, wilderness concepts


Non-native, wild horses have thrilled visitors for decades on Assateague Island. Their presence on the Island has resulted in legends and fascination, yet as non-native species the horses have also caused immense ecological changes to the ecosystems. The horses are a prime example of societal constructions surrounding wilderness ideals and what it means to be “wild.” As someone who has been coming to the Island for over 18 years, my research uses personal narrative, ethnography, and survey data on Assateague visitors’ values regarding horses and ecology. Assateague has a rich sense of place, with a variety of different people visiting for recreational, aesthetic, and educational reasons. This project examines cultural conceptions surrounding the Island, which in the future can offer insight into how to bring conservation plans and tourist perspectives into closer alignment to ensure a sustainable future for Assateague Island and its diverse stakeholders. My research suggests that traditional conceptions of wilderness conflict with effective ecological conservation. There is a strong sense of personal gains, especially valuing the Island because of the increase in physical/mental wellbeing, environmental benefits, education, and a lack of interference with “wildness.” The horses of Assateague provide huge value to the Island, its sense of place, and to the visitors who come. Conceptualizations of wilderness on Assateague need to be considered when it comes to the reaction of effective management strategy because it is these very values and experiences that dictate how visitors will interact with the space.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.