‘Outer Banks Visionaries’ book launch features stories, reflections on 50 years of growth

Published 8:26 pm Sunday, July 30, 2023

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The Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series, along with Twiddy & Company, sponsored the launch of Clark Twiddy’s newest book Outer Banks Visionaries: Building North Carolina’s Oceanfront at Jennette’s Pier Thursday, June 29, 2023.

Twiddy led a discussion panel in Oceanview Hall featuring prominent community members John Harris, founder and president of Kitty Hawk Kites; Charles Evans, former mayor of Nags Head and former state legislator; Tess Judge, local businesswoman and entrepreneur; and Chris Sawin, president and CEO of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.

More than a book launch, the evening was a celebration of the visionaries that helped shape the Outer Banks and transform it from a relatively unknown patch of shoreline to one of the most popular vacation destinations in America.

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There was a spirit of camaraderie, joy and ownership in the room as some of the individuals and families who built the Outer Banks reminisced over humble beginnings and remarkable stories.

“I saw a hang glider in The Winston Salem Journal and that was kind of it for me,” said Harris.

“We ran up and down the sand dunes with this glider in 1973 until we figured out how to fly it … It was such an incredible experience. It was a better experience than I even imagined. It took every nerve that I had. I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone. From that point we started talking about how we could share it.”

Harris said he got permission “on a handshake” to start teaching hang gliding lessons at Jockey’s Ridge, which he’s now been doing for nearly 50 years. It is the oldest and largest hang-gliding school in the world.

Harris now has 15 Kitty Hawk Kites locations along the Outer Banks, plus more in other states, specializing in adventure activities, tours and retail stores. Twiddy said that Kitty Hawk Kites is “arguably the business that defines the Outer Banks.”

Charles Evans talked about his part in preserving Jockey’s Ridge in 1973, which was being planned for a housing development.

“We took it for granted that it would always be there,” Evans said. He and others were instrumental in the approval of the dunes as a state park, which now covers 420 acres and is the most visited park in North Carolina.

Judge, when asked why she and her husband, Warren, chose to move to the Outer Banks, recalled the dreary November day when she arrived.

“Back in those days, after September/October, all the hotels closed. The restaurants closed. I’d taken a look around and I thought, ‘he’s having a midlife crisis, something’s not going right here,’” she said, drawing laughs from the audience. “But he knew way more than I did, right?”

Any conversation in the room about progress in the Outer Banks was incomplete without the mention of Senator Marc Basnight. Throughout the evening, friends, families and admirers told stories about the man from Manteo who fought for North Carolina and was instrumental in the construction of wide roads and bridges on the Outer Banks.

“Marc Basnight was simply a phenomenon,” Twiddy writes in the Pillars and Partners chapter of his book. “In a place famous for storms, he was, in his own right, a political hurricane that reshaped the landscape of the region.”

Twiddy moved the hour-long discussion through the culture in the 1970s and 80s, and the political and social events that provided the backdrop for such explosive growth, particularly in 1986 when the area saw the construction of Corolla Light, Village at Nags Head, the Outer Banks Mall and the Dare Centre.

“Entrepreneur is French word. It means to build something from nothing. They built something from nothing,” Twiddy said as he looked at Harris, Evans and Judge. “And it’s the Outer Banks we all inherit.”