State rejects Rogallo Museum on Jockey’s Ridge

By on October 28, 2022

Rendering of the proposed Rogallo Museum.

Citing both natural environment and legal concerns, the state on Friday Oct. 28 denied the request for a private museum to be built on Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.

The Rogallo Foundation, led by Kitty Hawk Kites owner John Harris, had requested a free, 99-year lease of park land on which to build a 12,000-square-foot, $7-million museum honoring flexible-wing inventors Francis and Gertrude Rogallo.

Dwayne Patterson, director of North Carolina State Parks, sent a letter to Harris on Oct. 28 detailing concerns over the proposed museum, which included its “size and scope;” its effects on the natural landscape; and its failure to meet legal requirements of the property, which is part of a State Nature and Historic Preserve.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) oversees the Division of Parks and Recreation, under which the state parks fall. Patterson said in the letter that he was sharing the concerns of DNCR Secretary D. Reid Wilson.

“The Department does not support proceeding with a lease of property to the Foundation or construction of a museum at Jockey’s Ridge,” Patterson wrote. “There are also concerns about the appropriateness of leasing public land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from those of the Division, and with recently expressed public opposition to the proposal,” he continued.

“We remain interested in telling the story of the Rogallos and low-speed flight as part of our educational mission and hope to work with you on alternatives that do not involve a lease or new building,” he added.

“It’s disappointing that it appears at this time that the museum won’t be built near where over 50 years of flying history and Rogallo history have taken place,” Harris said in an Oct. 28 email to the Voice.

He called it “unfortunate” that the Town of Nags Head, the state parks system and Friends of Jockey’s Ridge didn’t “take the time to understand the proposed Museum and let it go through the state process,” which “would have assured that no environmental or financial harm would come to the park.”

“The Rogallo Museum will be built somewhere,” Harris added, noting its educational value.

Patterson also sent a letter the same day to the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, the nonprofit that helps support and maintain the state park, detailing the same reasons for the museum proposal’s denial and thanking the group for sharing its concerns over the proposal.

The Friends of Jockey’s Ridge Board of Directors had unanimously adopted a resolution against the building of the Rogallo Museum on state park property at its Oct. 17 meeting.

“We’re pretty happy, obviously,” Michael O’Brien, Chair of the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge Board, said of the state’s decision on Friday. O’Brien said he knew the Rogallo family personally and noted that the board didn’t have a problem with the museum concept, but “just didn’t think it was an appropriate setting.”

Other public opposition relayed to the state came in the form of a letter of concern from the Nags Head Board of Commissioners and a petition, which garnered over 2,500 signatures.

Ann-Cabell Baum started the petition and had traveled from her home in Raleigh to attend both the recent Friends of Jockey’s Ridge and Nags Head Commissioners’ meetings.

Her mother, Carolista Fletcher Baum, famously stood between a bulldozer and a sand dune slated to be developed into condominiums in 1973. She then helped organize and lead the local activism that included raising money and lobbying Raleigh for the creation of a state park to protect the East Coast’s tallest sand dunes, which happened in 1975.

The Nags Head Commissioners voted 4-0 on Oct. 19 to put a resolution taking a formal position on the museum on their November meeting agenda. They also directed Mayor Pro Tem Mike Siers to write a letter to the state parks on behalf of the board, expressing their concerns with the lack of public input and the fact that an area of environmental concern (AEC) encompasses nearly all the park’s land, apart from the parking lot.

Nags Head Commissioner Renée Cahoon had introduced the motion at the meeting.

“I totally support the Rogallos — they were amazing people, absolutely brilliant people,” Cahoon told the Voice. “But if there’s a gift shop, that’s in direct conflict with the visitor shop that’s already there that makes its money to use in the park.” She added that, “In my mind, nobody’s done the one thing they need to do: Talk to the public, get the public input.”

The Rogallo Foundation requested confidentiality in the draft memorandum of agreement (MOA) submitted in 2019 to an employee with the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation who since retired.

That 12-page draft MOA was published in an article by the Pulse on Oct. 18. The MOA asked the state to keep terms of an agreement secret. The Pulse is a news and commentary service of NC Policy Watch.

Besides the stipulation for secrecy, the draft MOA gave the Rogallo Foundation control of park operations, allowing it to shut down the entire park “for reasons of health and safety” and also requiring the state to monetarily reimburse Rogallo Foundation museum employees for the full time of the closure it initiated.

It stipulated the parks department pay the building’s electrical, water, sewer, maintenance, landscaping and repair costs. It also left room for cancelling the MOA at any time for various reasons (including if the park begins charging an admission fee or sees declining visitation) and requested that park employees participate in fundraising efforts to benefit the Rogallo Foundation.

According to the draft MOA, “100% of the revenues from retail operations, admission fees or donations for the museum would go to support the Museum operations.”

In response to Voice questions about the MOA, an Oct. 27 statement from NC Division of Parks and Recreation Public Information Officer Katie Hall said that the concept of the museum “lay dormant during the pandemic and was brought back to the state parks system earlier this year.”

That 2019 draft MOA “does not reflect input from or the positions of the Division of Parks and Recreation. An agreement like that would also be legally insufficient to lease public land or build a new building on it,” Hall’s statement continued.

The following day, state officials closed the door to the museum project on park land.




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  • Rosie

    Good call by the state. Keep private interests off public lands. And the potential for a white elephant ending up in the hands of the sate is too large to ignore.

    Saturday, Oct 29 @ 11:11 am
  • Johnny

    They weren’t asking for much, were they? Very good call by NC.

    Saturday, Oct 29 @ 1:38 pm
  • Steve Railsback

    Re: the MOA…Is the Rogallo Foundation always so arrogant?

    Saturday, Oct 29 @ 4:55 pm
  • Pearl

    This seems to be a right out of the MISS KATIE dredge playbook. They used state money to pay for it then gave it to a private company. MILLIONS of dollars. Then to add additional insult they had disgraceful senator Burr and his wife there to christen it. I wonder how much he pockets from that venture.

    Sunday, Oct 30 @ 8:44 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Just for the record, the museum was not going to be funded by the state, but through private donations.

    Sunday, Oct 30 @ 9:58 am
  • Pearl

    Thank you for clarifying that to readers Mr. Jurkowitz. I was stating that this was a total spin on a similar concept. They build a museum and stick the STATE for all utilities, ground keeping and repairs and maintenance. Those who live here know how expensive maintenance is with salt spray, sand corrosion and wind. The cost of repairs too? Hello HURRICANE season. This would be for a mere 99 years!! Thank you to all who said NO to this insanity.

    Sunday, Oct 30 @ 12:53 pm
  • Michael Arnold

    This was obviously an easy decision. Good call by North Carolina.

    Sunday, Oct 30 @ 5:48 pm
  • Travis

    It’s funny how dogged people are about their pet projects. Not saying the majority is always right, but when the State, the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, the Town of Nags Head and 2500 plus petitioners tell you they’re not interested in what you are selling, you might want to back off and reconsider your pitch.

    Monday, Oct 31 @ 9:38 am
  • Read Between the Lines

    Well the MOA clears things up a bit.
    So all this has nothing to do with a museum and everything to do with a long-term corporate partnership meant to secure the wealth of a man who’s nearing retirement?
    No wonder he didn’t want the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge involved, which would have been a logical first step for such a project. No wonder he wanted the terms of the deal kept secret.
    I’m actually quite surprised the state rejected this. Guess he didn’t grease the right palms.

    Monday, Oct 31 @ 2:10 pm
  • Surf123

    A victory for the park and the taxpayers. That MOA was about as one-sided as it could be against the state (taxpayers). Next Nags Head needs to prepare to hold the onslaught of requests for variances and special accommodations for the convention center being pushed on us by the tourist board. Another thing that is not needed or wanted.

    Tuesday, Nov 1 @ 11:47 am
  • Glider Fan 4 Life

    Now where am I going to learn about gliders? Thanks party poopers…

    Wednesday, Nov 2 @ 12:09 pm