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Shenandoah's Camp Hoover


Shencamphoover_copy    President Bush, who headed to Shenandoah National Park today to tout his national park budget for fiscal 2008, isn't the first president to head to the mountain park southwest of Washington, D.C. In fact, it was President Hoover who put the location on the political map with his frequent retreats to a small, woodsy compound first known as Camp Rapidan and later referred to simply as Camp Hoover.
    Although he led a high-profile life before being elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover still felt the heavy "pneumatic hammer of public life" as president. The innate pressures of the office led Hoover in the summer of 1929 to establish his retreat in a shady dell of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains that proved to be the forerunner to today's Camp David.
    Hoover had three main requisites for what became the first official summer White House: it must be within 100 miles of Washington, stand at least 2,500 feet above sea level, and be on the banks of a trout stream. After all, Hoover told Americans on August 17, 1929, when he announced the decision to head to the Appalachian highlands, fishing is "an excuse for return to the woods and streams with their retouch of the simpler life of the frontier from which every American springs."

    But fishing proved only an occasional pastime at Camp Rapidan, as the retreat came to be known for its location at the headwaters of the Rapidan River. The president, who often wore white flannels and a Panama hat while at the camp, held an arms-control summit there with British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, met with senators and congressmen, convened Cabinet meetings (separate cabins for Cabinet members where built down the road from Camp Rapidan), and held sessions with the day's leading industrialists as he sought a solution to the Great Depression. But he also found time to pitch horseshoes with aviator Charles Lindbergh and relax with Thomas Edison.
    The 164-acre setting beneath shady hemlocks, oaks and tulip poplars certainly allowed for privacy and solitude. Mrs. Lou Henry Hoover referred to Camp Rapidan, which Hoover built with $120,000 of his own money, as being "at the end of nowhere, with a road that in wet weather lets you sink to your hubs in slushy mush and while there bump over the most amazing bounders."

    Shencamphoover2_copy In addition to erecting 13 buildings, including a dining hall and recreation hall, the Hoovers saw that Camp Rapidan had an artificial stream called Hemlock Run flowing through the property as well as a trout pond, where they would feed bits of beef heart to the fish.
    Though Hoover turned the camp over to the federal government when he left office, it never became a permanent summer White House, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn't negotiate the rough grounds in his wheelchair.
    Later, as part of Shenandoah National Park, Camp Rapidan did host some Washington politicians. President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Roselyn Carter, and their daughter Amy stayed there in May 1979 so the president could get in some fishing, and Vice President Al Gore also made at least one visit.
    More recently, the National Park Service wrapped up seven years of restoration work intended to show visitors how the camp looked during Hoover's administration. While not all of the original buildings remain, those that do include the Brown House, as President Hoover's cabin was called; the Prime Minister's Cabin, where Ramsay MacDonald stayed, and; the Creel Cabin, where presidential aides stayed.
    Along with removing additions later tacked onto the Brown House and the Prime Minister's Cabin, the work involved replacing porches, patching floors, uncovering windows that had been concealed by later additions, replacing gutters, and reconstructing pathways that wound through the property.
    Park crews also did a lot of work inside the buildings, and refurbished some of Hoover's original furnishings.


Clearly, Bush visited Shenandoah for a photo op only. No other reason. Too bad the media mobsters were off watching Timmy Russert and other circuses. Well, actually it made no difference.

My wife and I hike to Hoover Camp when we're in the neighborhood at Skyline Drive. Last year we had the opportunity to be the first "visitors" to receive a guided tour of the renovated facilities. What a treat! We were just nosing around peeking into the windows when the curator came over to talk to us. We started to ask some questions and the woman just smiled and invited us in and said this would be an opportunity for her to practice her presentation. We, of course, obliged her and had a delightful visit.

The place has been restored quite well and the facility is a good look into the past. Lots of photos and you can really get a good sense of the history there. I would imagine sumer nights there would get rather hot and humid.

This place is quintessentially "rustic." I don't know about Jimmy Carter but I can guarantee you Amy didn't have much of a good time when they stayed there! The fishing stream was nearly bone-dry when we were there but if there's water - and fish - this would, indeed, be a great way to pass the time.

The hike to get there is (I think) close to 2.5 miles and probably nearly 1,000 feet in elevation. Going back up can be a bit of a workout for those folks in less-than-optimal condition. This hike gives your knees a good workout. You can schedule a ride down to the camp to see it, too. I think it's somewhere around $12 for the round trip (I may be wrong about that). If you look at a topo you'll see this is a winding road that wraps around the hollow to get there. I can't imagine what it was like in the good old days when you would most certainly sink to the axles in crummy conditions.

This is a nice hike and you won't encounter many - if any - visitors.


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