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A Former President, His Retreat, and Shenandoah National Park


President Hoover's cabin at Rapidan Camp, today, top photo, and back then, bottom photo. Top photo by David and Kay Scott, bottom photo NPS.

Editor's note: As our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, continue on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System, they get to sample some of the best lodging, food, and camping there is to be had. This dispatch came following a trip to Rapidan Camp in Shenandoah National Park.

On Monday we checked out of the Skyland Resort, drove ten miles south on Skyline Drive through the gorgeous countryside of Shenandoah National Park, and checked into Big Meadows Lodge. Talk about a hard day on the road.

Two days earlier we had stopped at the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows to register for Monday afternoon’s Historic Rapidan Camp Tour that is offered daily by the National Park Service. The three-hour tour departs Big Meadows’ Byrd Visitor Center, where a Park Service shuttle carries up to 12 people to the summer camp built and used by President Herbert Hoover. Our tour was at capacity so it was fortunate we made the earlier reservation.

President Hoover indicated soon after his winning 1928 campaign a desire for a summer retreat where he could occasionally escape the nation’s capital that suffered from hot and humid summers. The president had three stipulations regarding the retreat: It was to be: 1) within three hours drive of the capital; 2) at an elevation of 2,500 feet or more, and; 3) near a trout stream. After all, you see, President Hoover was an avid outdoorsman and loved to fish.

The new president first visited the location in February of 1929. He selected the site for his cabin at the headwaters of the Rapidan River but allowed his wife, Lou, and the architect she selected, to design the camp. President Hoover purchased the 165 acres of land -- which was then outside the national park -- with his own money and paid $15,000 for materials that were used by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Marines to construct the retreat. Once in operation, the camp was operated and guarded by the Marines.

Small neighboring communities were happy to learn of the president’s choice of a new retreat, for it meant they would likely be getting electricity, telephone service, and better roads in this rural area.

During our Monday afternoon tour, Ranger Georgette Vougias offered background on the Hoovers, and provided details about the camp’s history. After arriving at Rapidan Camp (later called Hoover Camp) we toured the former president’s cabin and examined exhibits in a separate “Prime Minister’s Cabin,” where British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald stayed while he met with President Hoover during an arms-control summit.

Park management solicits volunteers to stay in a nearby cabin that once housed the former president’s assistants and his personal physician. The volunteers are charged with watching over the camp and preparing the buildings for visitation by turning on lights and opening windows prior to tours. Preference is given to individuals who can spend at least three weeks at the camp. (Traveler readers interested in volunteering for Camp Rapidan should contact Shenandoah National Park museum specialist Kandace Muller at [email protected] ).

The daily (twice a day on Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday) Historic Rapidan Camp tour is one of many NPS programs in Shenandoah National Park. Rangers present a variety of talks, hikes, and campfire programs.

An interesting possibility for hikers involves from one- to four-day hikes along the Appalachian Trail that connects the three lodges. Overnight gear is transported via shuttle so that hikers aren’t required to carry heavy backpacks. For information visit this site.

Tomorrow we will be describing Big Meadows Lodge where we are currently staying in a room overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. We’ll even tell you about the playful bear cubs we watched from our balcony.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.

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