The Wright Brothers National Memorial park is in the midst of a two-year, $7.3 million renovation and rehabilitation of the park’s visitor’s center and museum building.
The upgrades are designed to improve infrastructure and enhance the overall visitor experience — and with the changes comes a modest increase to the entrance fee.
Effective June 1, 2018, the entrance fees to the park will increase from $7 per person — ages 16 and older who are traveling in a private non-commercial vehicle, or with an organized nonprofit group for up to 7 consecutive days — to $10 per person.
Also effective June 1, The Wright Brothers National Memorial Annual Pass will increase from $30 to $35. The annual park-specific pass allows unlimited entry to the memorial for 12 months from date of purchase for the pass holder and three adults (ages 16 and older).
The increase was deemed necessary to help ensure a quality experience for all who visit, according to a press release from the National Park Service. At least 80 percent of Wright Brothers National Memorial entrance fees stay in the park. The park shares the other 20 percent of entry fee income with other national parks for their projects, according to the press release.
The park is one of 117 National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee; the other 300 national parks will remain free to enter.
“Entrance fees are vital to addressing infrastructure needs and helping to improve visitor experiences at Wright Brothers National Memorial,” Superintendent David Hallac says.
Renovations, which are scheduled to be complete in August 2018, include removing the building’s heating and air conditioning bulkhead installed in the 1980s, replacing the existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing set up and exposing the original corrugated concrete ceiling in the Flight Room.
Additionally, the exterior concrete structure and walk ways will be restored, the restrooms renovated and the existing exhibits profiling the significance of the Wright brothers’ contribution to flight will be re-imagined and redesigned and will include new interactive exhibits.
The grand re-opening is scheduled for Aug. 19 — Orville Wright’s birthday, and National Aviation Day.
During the closure, the grounds will remain open. Visitors are welcome to walk to the First Flight Boulder and Flight Line which mark the location where the Wrights first flew, peer into the reconstructed Wright brothers’ camp building and hangar and walk to the base of the 61-foot-tall granite memorial pylon atop Kill Devil Hill.
“I have no problem paying $3 more to visit the park,” says Terry Marshall, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has vacationed on the Outer Banks annually since 2006. “Our national parks are such an important asset to the country, and I don’t think it’s asking too much to pay a little more, especially since the improvements will bring so much more to the table.”
The Wright Brothers National Memorial has had an entrance fee since 1939.The current rate of $7 per person has been in effect since 2015, according to the NPS.
The highlight for many visitors to the park is the 1903 bronze and steel statue of the first flight. The sculpture, which weighs more than 10,000 pounds, is designed to withstand 140 mph wind and weight of 150 pounds per square foot.
The climbable, touchable work of art — a gift to the state of North Carolina by Wilmington-born sculptor Stephen Smith — was modeled after a photograph taken on Dec. 17, 1903.
The sculpture depicts seven life-size bronze figures who were on hand for the monumental first flight: Orville Wright; Wilbur Wright; John T. Daniels, an Outer Banks native who photographed the plane just as it went aloft; Cephus Brinkley; Will Dough, Adam Etheridge; and Johnny Moore. The plane is a full-scale replica of the 1903 Flyer with a 40-feet 4-inch wingspan. Four storyboards tell the story of the Wright brothers and the day that changed history.
Claudia Huinink, who lives in The Netherlands, says she wouldn’t mind paying the additional $3 to visit the park.
“It’s a wonderful park, even with the renovations going on right now. It’s part of the world’s history, really, not just the history of the United States,” says Huinink, who visited the Outer Banks with her boyfriend, Rob Siebesma, who retired from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. “This is where manned flight began, and this site represents why I am able to get from The Netherlands to the U.S. in nine hours instead of 10 days.”