Air station looks to solve identity crisis

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 LOWER TOWNSHIP – The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum here at the Cape May Airport suffers from a little bit of an identity crisis.

“We are at the Cape May Airport, which is not in Cape May, and called Naval Air Station Wildwood, but not in Wildwood,” said Bruce Fournier, deputy director of the museum located in the World War II era hangar there. “Sometimes people who live and work here get confused about where we are.”

Even the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA), which operates the airport where the museum is located, can’t seem to pinpoint the location. According to the DRBA maintained website for the Cape May Airport, “this well-maintained 1,000-acre general aviation airport” is located in Rio Grande, New Jersey, approximately five miles from Cape May. The site does list the airport’s address as being in Erma.

Rio Grande is part of Middle Township and Erma is in Lower Township.

The air station was originally called NAS Rio Grande when it was established during World War II, but that created confusion with a large air station out of Rio Grande, Texas, so the Wildwood moniker was attached.

“You know this happens to us all the time,” Fournier said. “We’ve got a lot to offer and have trouble getting our name on anything.”

Fournier and his marketing committee hosted some 70 local accommodation business owners and operators at a hospitality night last Wednesday, April 17 to help get the word out about the air station, said Fournier.

“The event went well, for the first year,” he said. “Next year, I think we will hold it just after Memorial Day, so that more of the Wildwood businesses can be represented.”

The two hour event informed local motel, hotel and innkeepers what the NAS Wildwood Museum has to offer for visitors, and told them how to point them there.

“It’s about branding, and being part of the overall Cape May County brand,” said Fournier. Wine at the event was provided by Jessie Creek Winery, of Cape May Court House, and snacks by Cape May Smokehouse, with locations in North Cape May and on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May.

“It seemed like a great way to get the word out,” said Ken Hutchinson, owner of the Cape May Smokehouse. “I guess one of the staffers at the museum had been at an event we catered and approached us about this.”

Hutchinson just opened the Cape May location on Easter, but has operated out of North Cape May for some five years.

“We also do a lot of catering. We serve traditional Southern style barbeque – ribs, chicken, brisket,” he said.

Fournier said that the museum had over 30,000 visitors last year, not including special events such as the annual “American Pride” weekend.

“Once we get people here, they are thrilled,” he said. “So having locals at local businesses pointing the way and really knowing what we have to offer really increases foot traffic. The hospitality event seemed like a low cost way to increase those referrals.”

Fournier said that they offer discounts with nearby businesses, such as the Flight Deck restaurant and Cape May Brewing Co, both located at the airport, as well as the Forgotten Warriors Museum just across the street.

The Forgotten Warriors museum hosts a large collection of memorabilia, most donated by local veterans, from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“It all links up to make the county a great destination,” said Fournier.

The museum recently announced its plans for an inaugural 5K run, as well as its annual Aviation Career Education Summer Academy held July 8-12, for students aged 12-17, and the Explorers Summer Academy held July15-19, for students aged 9-11.

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is located inside Historic Hangar #1 at the Cape May Airport. The site was formerly Naval Air Station Wildwood, which served as a World War II dive-bomber training center. The museum is dedicated to the 42 airmen who perished while training at Naval Air Station Wildwood between 1943 and 1945.


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