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Port Wentworth Spotlight: Visitors Information Center welcomes tourists
Southern Images Bryan Shores and Jennifer Pierce share a laugh while preparing to offer tourists samples of fried chicken. They also offered macaroni and cheese from the Richmond Hill restaurant and catering business. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

PORT WENTWORTH — A wide variety of vendors unwrapped the gift that is Georgia during Georgia On My Mind Day at the new Visitor Information Center at mile marker 111 on I-95.

Restaurants, candy stores and several other entities displayed their wares or shared information with thousands of southbound tourists during the March 9 event.

Each organization used chatty, friendly representatives who tried to entice visitors to linger in the state and experience what it has to offer.

Richmond Hill’s Bryan Shores, accompanied by Jennifer Pierce, used the opportunity to tout Southern Image, his restaurant and catering business.

“We’ve come out to let people know we have good Southern cooking in Richmond Hill,” Shores said while standing in front of some freshly fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. “We’ve been around for 17 years and we have an all-Southern buffet. You can get fried chicken everyday but everything else alternates.

“The staples are always there but we substitute different things everyday. We have six proteins everyday and a whole variety of vegetables. Come get you some sweet potato souffle, broccoli casserole that kind of good stuff!”

Paula Fogarty was on hand to tout the Coastal Jazz Association.

“We are a 37-year-old nonprofit organization,” she said. “We produce monthly concerts and provide scholarships for jazz students. We also produce the Savannah Jazz Festival.”

Fogarty the association’s executive director, spoke as local jazz musicians played behind her. The group included Howard Paul (guitar), Mitch Hennes (bass) and Stutz Wimmer (saxophone).

“The Savannah Jazz Festival this year is September 23 through 29,” she said. “It is seven days of free jazz music. It is entirely free and we get over 30,000 attendees.

“We will have over 20 acts this year.”

Bubbly Tara Nobles was on hand to share information about Girl Scouts.

“I’m happy to be anywhere,” she joked. “I’ve got cookies and a captive audience.”

The director of community engagement for Girl Scouts in Savannah was armed with her organization’s famed Thin Mints.

“Please help yourself,” she said. “I’ve got a lot more where those came from.”

Kayla Clark was equally effervescent for the UGA Marine Extension and Sea Grant, which provides research, education, training and science-based outreach to assist Georgia in solving problems and realizing opportunities for its coastal and marine environments. It is responsible for the UGA Aquarium in Savannah and conducts events around the state.

Clark explained to visitors what UGA’s Marine Extension has to offer in the way of summer camps, exhibits and public programs.

“We do K-12 education,” Clark said. “We also do adult programs. It’s all hands-on exploration.”

Florida-bound Vera and Ralph Girman of Pittsburgh, Pa., were surprised by all the commotion at the center, including men dressed as pirates and Revolutionary War soldiers.

“We don’t usually do anything in Georgia other than visit the rest stops,” said Mrs. Girman, who was eager to see her daughter, a resident of Palm Coast, Fla. “Now that I’ve seen what they have to offer, I will stop here again.”

The interior of the center features artificial live oaks covered in moss and a replica of Forrest Gump sitting on a park bench.

“Do they do this every year?” Mrs. Girman asked. “This place is beautiful. It’s very nice.”