Change is not new to the Outer Banks. Yet, throughout Clark Twiddy’s career, the real-estate executive grew tired of learning about the region’s history from obituaries. So he decided to describe the changes occurring at North Carolina’s barrier islands through locals’ experiences.
“I would just call people up and say, ‘hey, will you tell me a story or two?’ Or, ‘hey, what’d you see here? And ‘hey, can you remember this?’ And so I would just talk with them.”
Twiddy’s hospitality-based career has provided an interesting perspective to look at how the Outer Banks’ region has developed through key personalities. The result is his new book, “Outer Banks Visionaries: Building North Carolina’s Oceanfront.” It’s his second release about the area’s history.
Over the past 30 years, the quaint fishing villages have become neighbors to a booming visitor economy. Resistance to the change is futile, he notes.
“Change is a constant. It’s a question of how we shape change and our ability to shape it rather than to resist it. If we describe ourselves as resistant to change, then we are doomed to fail.”
The graduate of Virginia Military Institute, University of Tennessee, and Northwestern University’s business school was raised in Duck, a small Dare County town. He oversees his family’s Twiddy & Company, which was formed in 1978 and comprises more than 1,000 rental homes from Nags Head north to the Virginia state line.
The Outer Banks’ status as a visitor economy accelerated during the ‘80s, Twiddy says, crediting how people gained purchasing power during the Reagan administration. Higher disposable income contributed to more demand for vacation homes and rentals. Today, North Carolina is the sixth-most visited state in America.
Dare County, home to Duck, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, has a median home value of about $548,000, the highest in the state. “It’s indeed remarkable to consider that the Outer Banks has emerged as a capital of what is now a major asset class in America,” namely luxury residential real estate.
In the book, Twiddy covers the journeys of various Outer Banks visionaries who took part in its transition from isolation to a thriving visitor economy. He cites the late state Sen. Marc Basnight, to whom the book is dedicated, for helping attract state funds
for infrastructure and a community college. As an elected official for 26 years, Basnight also worked to alleviate environmental concerns through the N.C. Land and Water Fund and other groups.
Others spotlighted by Twiddy include developers Richard ‘Dick’ Brindley and Bob Oakes, who cultivated resort and vacation rental communities such as Corolla Light and the Village at Nags Head, respectively.
The shift from full-time to seasonal residents has provided a platform for service-based businesses to flourish. Twiddy emphasizes the importance of people who create services, trades, and experiences to keep visitors returning to the region.
“Our economy is 90% experiences. Our people are our most precious resource,” including manual laborers who play pivotal maintenance and construction roles.
Many of the region’s early structures are gone, which has led to increased respect for the importance of conservation. “As you see growth explode on one end of the spectrum, there is a corresponding impulse for conservation.”
This concern helped inspire the creation of the Outer Banks Community Foundation in 1982. This nonprofit organization meets local needs, including protecting historical and environmental landmarks to safeguard the island’s opportunities and natural resources.
Through his retelling of the history of the Outer Banks, Twiddy says he wishes to help the region shape a better, more sustainable future. His passion project, he hopes, will educate others and that, “If nothing else, no one has to wonder how
we got here.” ■