Sneak peek: Pier opening to bring history full circle

By on May 18, 2011

Finishing touches were being put on the reception room.

At the top of the ramp to the Jennette’s Pier entrance, panels telling its history with newspaper clippings and photos include a shot of a 7-year-old girl named Vickie.

Back then, she was Vickie Jennette. On Saturday, 64 years after the photo was taken, the successor to the pier Vickie Jennette Perry’s grandfather built, opened to a crowd of hundreds.

Battered repeatedly by storms since 1939 and finally destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Jennette’s has long been a landmark at Nags Head’s Whalebone Junction.

This version, a satellite of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, is far grander and, at 1,000 feet, nearly twice as long as the original. And it is intended to be much more than a fishing pier this time.

“The whole thing is a teaching tool,” Manager Mike Remige and Assistant Manager Daryl Law will tell you.

The pier is designed to withstand a strong Cat 3 hurricane. (Russ Lay photo)

With a $25 million price tag, the facility is impeccably constructed, with details down to the wooden lighthouse anchoring the bannister to the second floor, the tilework running up the faux chimney above the gas fireplace in the elegant reception room and the image of a Spanish mackerel created by angled cedar shake shingles on the front wall outside.

The pier itself bears little resemblance to the original. Solidly built of wood and concrete, it is designed to withstand a strong Category 3 hurricane, Law said as he conducted a tour earlier this week.

View from the second-floor deck. (Russ Lay photo)

What you immediately notice are the three towering wind turbines, the street lamps hearkening to the era when Jennette’s was first built and the “shade pavilions” providing tutorials on fish, birds, surfing, wind power and more.

The enclosure at the end of the pier will be used for research by the University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute. Some of the data will be fed in real time to monitors inside the pier house.

Signs politely remind anglers of the rules: “We recommend underhanded casts to prevent accidents” and “Let ’em go.”

The wood is so spanking new, it’s hard to imagine bait being carved up on the immaculate railings. But cisterns fed from the roof of the pier house will supply the water for regular pressure washing to keep the pier looking fresh if not a little weathered over time.

Pavilions will also be used for programs. (Russ Lay photo)

On Tuesday, the turbines were spinning but soundless. They will provide about half the power needed at peak times, Law said, and the hope is that the pier can be reimbursed for electricity fed into the grid during the offseason.

Solar panels will provide power for the pier’s lights after dark.

Routers have carved out fish-shaped recesses in planks for memorial tiles being sold to help raise money to keep the pier running. Some of the blue tiles have already been installed. But a penciled notation on the first recess says it is reserved for Gov. Beverly Perdue.

About 500 of the planks have been sold at $200 each, Law said. Memorial benches can be had for $1,500.

The first-floor shop and snack bar. (Russ Lay photo)

Holding a wedding reception on the second floor will cost much more: $3,300 for five hours. But what a view. The outside deck offers plenty of white rockers, and the vaulted ceilings, finished yellow pine paneling and suspended globe lights inside should provide a fine backdrop for photo ops.

Already this year, about 40 functions have been scheduled, Law said.

On the first floor Tuesday, two fish tanks were not quite ready for their occupants. But workers were busy stocking the gift store and tackle shop.

There is no restaurant in keeping with an effort not to compete with the other commercial piers. But a snack bar will offer coffee, drinks and hot dogs. A counter with stools faces big windows overlooking the pier and the ocean.

Fishing and walking on the pier will be free Saturday. After that, it will be $12 for adults and $6 for children. A $2 donation will be encouraged for walkers.

Things started Saturday with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team followed by a short program.

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