- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

SYRIA, Va. — The National Park Service is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore and renovate a historical gem inside the Shenandoah National Park: the presidential retreat of Herbert Hoover.

But when the restoration is completed next year, budget woes may prevent the Park Service from keeping the retreat open to visitors throughout the day.

The Rapidan Camp restoration is one of many challenges the park faces, according to a new report issued by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a private group that lobbies on behalf of national parks.

The report indicates that budget problems threaten the park’s ability to maintain its historical resources and fend off invasive species such as the woolly adelgid, which has destroyed much of the park’s stock of hemlock trees.

Mr. Hoover’s Rapidan Camp, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the headwaters of the Rapidan River, is a prime example of the difficulties the park faces.

Shenandoah National Park stretches more than 100 miles in western Virginia, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, including many tourists from the Washington area who head to the park in the summer to escape the heat, or drive the park’s Skyline Drive in the fall to see the brilliant foliage.

“The reason Hoover came here is the same reason vast majority of our visitors come — they want to escape Washington,” park interpreter Claire Comer said during a media tour of the park Wednesday.

Mr. Hoover described the retreat as a means to escape “the pneumatic hammer of public life.”

Mr. Hoover hosted numerous dignitaries at the camp, which became a sort of summer White House. He discussed aviation with Charles Lindbergh and held an arms-control summit with British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. Winston Churchill also was among the camp’s visitors.

Mr. Hoover built the camp with his own money to blunt criticism of government largess during the Great Depression. But he still used labor from the Marine Corps at taxpayer expense. Marines did much of the masonry work and even rerouted a stream to provide the constant sound of rushing water.

Mr. Hoover turned the property over to the government after he lost his re-election bid in 1932, with the understanding that future presidents could enjoy its use. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt, paralyzed from the waist down with polio, found the camp difficult to navigate, and established the Shangri-La retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, the predecessor to Camp David.

A four-year, $300,000 project to restore Rapidan Camp, also called Camp Hoover, is scheduled for completion next year. But park officials will not have staff to keep the camp open during regular hours. They are hoping to use volunteers, but that’s uncertain.

Quinn McKew, a policy analyst with NPCA, said the park’s budget has increased by 24 percent over the past 10 years, but inflation and other costs have increased 31 percent during that time.

“They’ve done a spectacular job of renovating Camp Hoover, but these renovations will need to be maintained,” Miss McKew said.

Rapidan Camp is illustrative of the park’s problems in other ways. Tall hemlocks surround the site, but they are dead and will have to be removed.

“The last thing you want to do is go through all this restoration work and have a dead tree fall on the building,” said Gary Somers, the park’s chief of natural and cultural resources.

The woolly adelgid, which has taken its toll on hemlock trees up and down the East Coast, has affected Shenandoah as well. James Akerson, an invasive species specialist with the park, said the tiny insects, nearly invisible to the naked eye at times, attach to the tree’s branches and sap its energy. The adelgids, combined with the drought of the past few years, have destroyed the tall evergreens, although rangers have been able to protect some of the smaller hemlocks with spraying and other techniques.

The report card issued by the NPCA — the sixth national park surveyed so far — indicates that the problems facing Shenandoah are similar to those at other national parks, said James Nations, an NPCA vice president.

“I’d put Shenandoah as a pretty good bellwether of the system as a whole,” Mr. Nations said. “The park system is doing the best it can with the resources it has, but it has not been given the full range of resources to do the job America asks of it.”

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