The coincidental tourists

It all started at the hotel in Richmond Hill, Ga., a quaint little town outside of Savannah located along the seemingly endless ribbon of concrete known as Interstate Highway I-95. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and my Old Man fully believes this maxim. Unfortunately, the hotel’s dining room, which taunted a “free deluxe hot breakfast buffet,” was full of snowbirds eager to claim as much of the free carb and chemical laden booty as possible.

Being in coastal Georgia, I knew that somewhere close by there would be an establishment that served grits from stone-ground corn, eggs that were laid fairly recently by a chicken, and recognizable tasty parts of a pig. Since I never travel without my handy-dandy electronic devices, my TripAdvisor app soon pointed the way to a breakfast a skinny, country boy like my Old Man needs.

Angie’s Diner is located in Midway, a few miles down US 17 from Richmond Hill. When we opened the door, I knew we had found the right place for a proper breakfast when I spotted the group of graybeards congregated in one corner, a sure sign of good coffee and tolerant service. Henry ordered the full breakfast without hesitation. I opted to practice some restraint and ordered “breakfast in a cup” thinking the portions would be more figure-friendly. They weren’t. It was actually all that he was having, just served in a bowl. I ate all of it while deluding myself into thinking that I would walk it off later. Right.

While we were engaging in mutual gluttony, another group of diners took the booth behind me. I knew immediately from their voices that they were not locals, but like us had stumbled upon this little gem on the highway by accident or electronic assistance. As my attention was centered on savoring the delights before me and discussing our eventual arrival at St Marys, Ga. later in the day, I didn’t notice their conversation until one of the gentlemen asked the server something about a pilot. Of course, my ears perked up, and I became a willing eavesdropper.

The gentleman was holding a magazine and asking the waitress who in the restaurant was a pilot. This had my full attention, especially after I saw the gentleman was holding a copy of General Aviation News! Not only did I eavesdrop, I butted myself into their conversation. I introduced myself and commented on his good taste in reading material. I learned that Peter, Nadia and Bob were from upstate New York and that they were looking for a winter vacation rental in the area. Peter was a pilot and flew a Cessna 150. When he walked into the diner, the stack of GANs on the self out front caught his eye (I didn’t see them. I was envisioning pork delicacies upon my arrival).

The server said a local pilot brought those in for the public to enjoy. How neat and how coincidental! Peter and I chatted about local airports and private strips. I knew there were a few grass strips around the coast, because over the years I’d been invited to attend events at them. Nadia asked about affordable rentals in the area where she could practice her art in a quiet environment. Peter hoped one could be found near an airport. I suggested they check with the private owners in the area. Many accommodate transients or offer year-around tie downs.

We left them to their breakfast while wishing them success with their search, while they hoped we enjoyed our trip. We walked to the car discussing how cool it was that pilots seem to find each other even in a tiny town like Midway in a small diner. That’s when Henry decided to take my business card and leave it with the waitress in hopes that she would give it to the local pilot who generously left his magazines, which prompted this meeting of like-minded souls.

He came back with a name. Steve Berg. It sounded so familiar, and there was a jarring of memory. Grass fields nearby. Midway, Ga. Berg Park Aerodrome. 9GA2. I believed that Mr. Berg and I had corresponded several times over the years about his field’s annual open house. How could I come so close and not check this out? I felt it was meant to be that the strip, which is two miles east of Midway, was clearly marked on the iPad’s GPS map.

We found the place easily and took the long drive to the house that paralleled nearly 2,400 feet of lovely grass runway. Mr. Berg was gracious to my Old Man when he answered the door, and he welcomed me to his home like I was a long-lost friend. After our correspondences, I felt like I was. He gave us a tour of the property, which included his home, the strip, hangar, utility buildings, and necessities for hosting fly-in and drive-in events.

Mr. Berg named the airfield Berg Park in honor of his parents, who donated land in his hometown years ago for a park, which was named Berg Park. For several years, Mr. Berg has welcomed aviators and the public to Berg Park Aerodrome’s October open house in Midway as a means to educate the public about the joys of aviation and aviation preservation.

It is a beautiful place for an aviator and an excellent location for promoting grassroots aviation for pilots and non-pilots alike, but he told me that in recent years he has worried about keeping the property an active airfield. Like so many of us, with no family currently interested in aviation, keeping the field going for future generations can be problematic. That is why he formed the Grass Strip Foundation as a means of keeping Berg Park open to promote aviation preservation and education.

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(From left): Nadia, Bob, Peter, Deb and Steve. The runway is in the background.

It was one of those wonderful coincidences that during our talk Peter, Nadia and Bob drove up. Poor Mr. Berg, I hope he didn’t have too many things he wanted to do that day. I’m sure when he woke up that morning, he never dreamed that innocently placing aviation magazines in a local diner would lead to a host of aviators knocking at his door and drooling over his grass. Nadia was drooling over his facilities and the view of the marsh from runway. Bob was just along for the ride.

When Peter asked if he allowed RVs on the property, with aviation on the brain I thought and said out loud, “Of course he does!” But then it dawned that Peter and Mr. Berg were talking about campers, a.k.a. affordable winter vacation rentals. Peter would be on or near an airport. Nadia would have the space, the quiet and the view of the marsh and Mr. Berg would have a little help in the form of funds or labor to keep an aviation foundation ongoing.

We took our goodbyes then, so the two parties could discuss the details of a possible partnership that I hoped worked. If not, I wish both much success in their searches. We had taken up enough of Mr. Berg’s day. It was grand to meet him and see his place, but our adventure was just starting and what a way to get it going.

Within 48 hours, I would be hiking on a wilderness island, but that is another story altogether.

For more information about Berg Park Aerodrome or the Grass Strip Foundation, contact Steve Berg at stevebee@coastalnow.net.

Top Photo: Deb McFarland and Steve Berg. I am so sorry, but I do not remember the dog’s name, but the dog is the airport manager for sure.

Comments

  1. Interesting column again Deb. The idea of a foundation of some sort to take over and run these small strips has merit I believe. If a non-profit type organization as such could own these places, perhaps with restraints on growth to force them to remain small relaxed fields, they could make up for the county/municipal airports abandoning the light end of G.A.If the rent covered only the cost of hangars and taxes how much more affordable would it be for us to keep our aircraft? These people have given of themselves to aviation but the next generation may not care, or as with the publicly owned fields just look to the dollars, be that jets or shopping malls. Here’s hoping that places like Berg Park and Lee Bottom airfield can survive.

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