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State rejects proposed museum deal at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, citing concerns about its ‘appropriateness’

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

State officials have rejected a proposal to build the Rogallo Museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, in Dare County, citing environmental concerns and the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from the parks division,” according to a letter dated today to John Harris, president of the foundation behind the project.

State officials sent a similar letter notifying the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which had vehemently opposed the project, of their decision. Friends of Jockey’s Ridge is a nonprofit that raises money and advocates for the park.

Dwayne Patterson, the director of the state parks division, wrote that the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, “does not support proceeding with a lease of property to the Foundation or construction of a museum at Jockey’s Ridge.”

DNCR is over the parks division. The department’s secretary, Reid Wilson, “is concerned about the size and scope of the proposed museum and its effect on both the natural landscape and limited acreage available in the vicinity of the visitor center for recreational and other uses by the Park,” the letter reads.

The Rogallo Foundation, headed by individuals active in real estate and the kite-surfing and hang-gliding business, had asked the state for permission to construct the museum to honor Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, inventors of the flexible wing – the same type of wing used in kite-surfing and hang gliding, Policy Watch reported last week.

Foundation president Harris, who co-owns Kitty Hawk Kites, had sent a proposed memorandum of agreement to the parks division in 2019, asking for the state to lease the land for 99 years — for free. Harris told Policy Watch earlier this month that he chose park property because “land is expensive” in Dare County.

The foundation had also unsuccessfully requested that the proposed MOA terms remain confidential. However, the MOA is a public record, and Policy Watch obtained it under state law.

The museum would have been built on environmentally sensitive park land, which has been designated by the US Department of Interior as a National Natural Area.

According to today’s letter, Secretary Wilson was also concerned that the proposal did not meet “various legal requirements affecting the property,” including provisions establishing the State Nature and Historic Preserve. Jockey’s Ridge is part of that preserve.

The draft MOA showed how the project would favor the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would pay for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would stay with the foundation to operate the museum.

Secretary Wilson was concerned about the “appropriateness of leasing land to a private entity whose mission and objectives may vary from those of the Division,” the letter read. The department was also concerned about public opposition to the proposal.

State Parks Deputy Director Brian Strong had recently met with Harris about the proposal, as well as with the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge.

In addition to the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, the Town of Nags Head Board of Commissioners opposed the project. The Dare County Commissioners passed a symbolic resolution in favor of the museum. Two residents supported the project, including Ralph Buxton, who works in real estate and lives near the park.

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State rejects proposed museum deal at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, citing concerns about its ‘appropriateness’