Building robots, solving murders, composing music — it’s all in a day’s work for Abi Fidler. As the technology coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island, Fidler, 26, is helping fuel the imaginations of hundreds of children every day in the club’s computer lab.

“The most rewarding thing is to see a member find something they are really passionate about doing,” says Fidler. “So many of our kids don’t have access to computers at home and rarely get the opportunity to create content such as music or movies. My favorite part of the job is when someone tells me ‘I never knew we could do this!’ and asks to learn more about it.”

Fidler has turned the lab into a place where kids learn complex math concepts by building robots or working with software based on “CSI.” But creative pursuits are represented as well; Fidler says kids can animate movies, compose music, learn to play instruments, design fashions and, in one case, dance along with Beyonce.

trainSavannah is better known for its antebellum townhomes and moss-draped oaks than its role in the American Revolution or the golden age of railroading, but two relatively new attractions on the town’s western fringes aim to balance those perceptions.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum (601 W. Harris St., 912-651-6823) is a delight for train fans of all ages. It’s got a restored roundhouse featuring engines and coaches, and offers short locomotive rides that give visitors an overview of the old Central of Georgia, which in the early 1900s was Savannah’s largest employer. Rides on the open-air passenger car, which are narrated by a guide, begin with the car being slowly rotated on a giant turntable once used to direct railroad cars into the repair bays arranged around the semicircular roundhouse.

Right next door to the trainyard is Battlefield Park, featuring a recreated earthen fortification that commemorates the valiant but doomed attempt by colonial Americans, Haitians and others to wrest the city back from its British occupiers on Oct. 9, 1779.  The battle left some 800 troops killed or wounded — and Savannah in redcoat hands for the duration of the Revolutionary War.

The Coastal Heritage Society is the proprietor of both sites and markets them with the adjacent Savannah Visitors Center/History Museum, housed in a restored railroad passenger terminal. “The whole complex now has a formal name. We call it Tricentennial Park,” said Patricia Guerrero Knight, society spokesperson. (Savannah, founded in 1733, will celebrate its 300th year in 2033.)

Savannah’s railroad shops closed in 1963 after diesel locomotives supplanted the coal-fired steam engines that the local shops were built to handle. The Coastal Heritage Society took over management of the site in 1989, and CHS’s preservation teams have since restored more than 40 railroad cars and other pieces of equipment. Restoration work on other buildings is ongoing, and there are plans to establish a children’s museum on site.

Hot weather advisory: Much of the tour involves walking outside, so take advantage of all the shady spots in the roundhouse for frequent rest and water breaks. Luckily, the luxuries inside the two restored Pullman passenger cars — also a guided tour  — include air conditioning.

Meanwhile, the grass-covered earthen fort of the Battlefield Park was recreated with evidence of the real structure, known as the Spring Hill Redoubt, that Coastal Heritage archaeologists found nearby in 2005.  It’s easy to see how such redoubts helped British occupiers fend off attackers, who would have first had to cross a deep V-shaped ditch, studded with thick spear-pointed poles, before scaling the steep fort walls.

 

IF YOU GO
Georgia State Railroad Museum
601 W. Harris St., 912-651-6823
Admission: $10 for adults;
$4 for children 6 and under
Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day)

Battlefield Park
Corner of Louisville Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 912-651-6825
Admission: Free to individual visitors; fee may apply for guided tours.
Hours: Open daily until dusk.
Directions from South Carolina: Cross into Savannah on the Talmadge Memorial Bridge; turn left on MLK Boulevard. The Railroad Museum and Battlefield Park are a short distance ahead on your right. The most convenient parking is at the parking lot of the Savannah Visitors Center/Savannah History Museum.
Information: chsgeorgia.org

cuevas02It’s not hard to see why Christen Cuevas was chosen as the new face of Coastal Chevrolet in Savannah. Not only is she a knockout, she’s also vivacious, enthusiastic and intelligent. But it’s how she got this gig – and a brand spanking new Chevy Tahoe — that makes her story unusual.

Cuevas, a Hilton Head resident for more than 20 years, started modeling and acting as a child in Washington, D.C. When she turned 16, she decided to give up her career and take up martial arts.

A pirate's life for me: On deck with Hilton Head's preeminent privateersAndy Carpenter remembers visiting the island as a kid with his family and being faced with two options with which to busy himself: play some golf, or go to the beach. “A vacation that does not actually make,” says Carpenter, now a copy editor and page designer at The Island Packet.

Hilton Head has always been big on passive summertime activities, happily bypassing the tacky approach to tourist amusement embraced by, say, Myrtle Beach’s cheesy theme parks and ugly water slides.

Before the pirate tours came along, the legacy of pirates in the Lowcountry had been reduced to caricatures on mini-golf courses and restaurant menus. But were there ever real pirates in the Lowcountry?

The area is full of vibrant lore, the most well-known of which is the legend of Gorez Goz. A bloodthirsty Spanish plunderer, Goz chased a local Indian maiden into a tree but got stuck, with his beard hopelessly ensnared in the tree branches. After he died, his grey beard continued to grow and spread, creating what we now call Spanish Moss.

History points to some real-world tales of piracy too. But, with traditional Lowcountry hospitality, the pirates were embraced at first, according to Beaufort County Public Library documents. For a quarter century after Charleston was founded in 1690, the city mingled eagerly with its pirate visitors, allowing them to booze and spend freely while at port as locals purchased stolen goods from the boats at low prices. Charlestonians saw the trade as good for the economy, but the royal government eventually began a crackdown.

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Orchid Paulmeier has a familiar face to anyone who has been around the Hilton Head Island restaurant scene: Her One Hot Mama’s has been a staple since it opened in Bluffton in 2003, and became even more prominent when it moved to the island’s Triangle in 2007.

But soon, Orchid’s face could be familiar all over the country, as she’ll be one of 15 finalists on this season of “The Next Food Network Star,” the show that skyrocketed Guy Fieri to fame, when it airs June 5 through Aug. 14.

Paulmeier wasn’t allowed to disclose details of the show, of course, but she could tell us what it’s like to go from girl with a dream and an ice cream scoop to Food Network celebrity.

Nothing Short of MiraculousFor Ava Davis, fulfilling a dream led to helping someone else out of a nightmare. In her new book “Nothing Short of Miraculous,” the retired English teacher, who moved to Hilton Head Island from Ohio four years ago, wrote about her experience trying to save the life of an abused heiress she met while on a golfing trip to Pebble Beach. Co-author and friend Lori Queen, also a Hilton Head Islander, recalled the fear of finding out what her friend was up to on all those mysterious trips to the West Coast.

“I knew for months that Ava was going back out to Pebble Beach to visit ‘friends,’ but she never added much detail. When I finally understood the entire situation and began to comprehend how involved she had become, I was terrified for her safety and my husband was absolutely furious with her. There was nothing else we could do but help her,” says Queen, who wrote about her part of the story in the book, published by Barringer Publishing in April.

This Mother’s Day, Mother (still) knows bestWhen Amanda Walton was pregnant with her daughter, Walton’s father offered a bit of advice that has proved true time and again. “He said, ‘They don’t come with a manual, but there are two things that are a close second: (The book) ‘What To Expect: The Toddler Years,’ and your mom.”

This proves two points in rapid succession: that fathers offer wise and loving counsel to their children, and that mothers are even better at it.

Walton, 28, says she has turned to her father for advice on things like buying cars and leasing apartments, life decisions that call for a cool head and a bit of business savvy. “But when it comes to matters of the heart, I think moms know best,” says the mother of a 3-year-old. “And there’s nothing closer to your heart than your child.”

Sgt. Frank J. Carson with Wexford resident Nancy OechsnerThis year, a platoon of Wexford residents is extending some Southern hospitality to returning men and women of the US Army by hand-delivering 93 individually packaged “welcome-home bags” for returning and redeploying soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga. The project is part of a volunteer effort called “Operation Welcome Home,” which primarily argets single soldiers and is connected with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS).

The group is planning its third trip to Fort Stewart in July.

Reality winner Patrick House on starting his new life in the LowcountryReality winner Patrick House on starting his new life in the Lowcountry

Even before the confetti fell on Patrick House’s victory celebration on “The Biggest Loser,” he already knew his new life would start in the Lowcountry. The Mississippi native won the 10th season of the NBC reality show in December by losing 181 pounds — 45 percent of the body weight from his original 400-pound frame.

But the show was about more than that: Its theme was “pay it forward,” and House is doing so at the MindStream Academy in Bluffton, where he serves as fitness coach. “We are making uge differences in kids’ lives,” says House, who has already settled with his family in Bluffton. House says he was quick to fall in love with the Lowcountry lifestyle. “My wife, family and I have been really blessed with the hospitality we have been shown,” he says. And thanks to his newly trim frame, he’s looking forward to trying out such iconic Lowcountry activities as wave runners and offshore fishing. “Now that I am at a healthy weight, I can actually do those things with my wife,” he says.