GRAYSON COUNTY, Va. - If you're looking to explore southwest Virginia this summer, there's a spot along the Appalachian Trail in Grayson County that has a unique claim to fame.
It's home to a herd of wild ponies that freely roam the area.
"Every other guest coming in wants to know where they can find the wild ponies," said Theresa Tibbs, Grayson Highlands State Park office manager.
About 100 wild ponies inhabit Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
Tibbs said park rangers don't keep track of the ponies and their daily movements.
"They roam the Wilburn Ridge area of the park," Tibbs said. "They have 1,500 acres in the state park to roam, (and) 20,000 acres in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area to roam."
Tibbs said visitors are often on the lookout for one pony in particular, a stallion named Fabio.
"He's called Fabio because of his looks," Tibbs said. "He has a beautiful flaxen mane and he's gray in color and he stands out in a crowd."
Tibbs said, "We actually use his portrait quite a bit on our merchandise."
She said the ponies are a popular visitor attraction, but they're at the park to serve a purpose.
"They are actually here for our resource management initiative to keep the bald areas open," Tibbs said. "They forage for a lot of stuff that other livestock or other animals do not eat, so they keep the areas open."
Tibbs said the ponies are curious, however park brochures indicate it's illegal to feed and pet them.
"Even though they will try to approach you, they are wild ponies," Tibbs said. "They do bite."
The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association, a non-profit organization, owns and manages the herd. Once a year the ponies are rounded up and given medical check-ups and a few are auctioned off during the Grayson Highlands Fall Festival.
You can find more information about the park and its ponies here: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/grayson-highlands#general_information
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