The Appalachian Trail blends all types of terrain and environments – from dense forest to meadows; from rocky inclines to paved roadways; from streams that must be ford to boulders that must be scaled. Because of the diversity of trail conditions, it is impossible to characterize the path in simple terms or in broad generalizations. However, there is only one place (that I can find in my limited research) that is home to the wild pony. The Appalachian Trail crosses through Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia for a 2.8 mile stretch. The park is huge (close to 5,000 acres) – it lies within the Jefferson National Forest – and it was established back in 60’s. And it is in this section of the A.T. (around the 500 mile point of the NOBO hike) that a thru-hiker might see the wild ponies.
In 1974, the land changed from private property to public ownership. At that time cattle were removed from the area and ponies were introduced to the park to maintain the highland balds. This three mile trek of the A.T. continues to be inhabited by a herd of ponies allowed to run wild within the confines of the park. The ponies are very comfortable around humans and usually don’t stop their snacking when hikers pass close by. Many locals touch and feed the ponies, though this practice is frowned upon and is against park policy. Visitors are warned not approach, feed or pet the ponies. The ponies can and will bite and kick when they feel threatened. Hiker food is bad for them (pop tarts, snicker bars and peanut butter are not highly recommended as pony fodder). Despite these rules (or maybe because of them) most thru-hikers enjoy engaging the ponies, scratching some ears, stroking the main, and taking lots of photos.
Each year, park officials round up the herd and check for health problems. In order to keep the herd a controllable size, the excess colts are sold at auction in the fall.