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Private Presidential Retreat Plays Host to History


President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown just completed two days of talks at the Camp David presidential retreat. This isolated mountain retreat, named for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson, is located 100 kilometers north of Washington, DC. 81 hectares in area, it is reserved for the private use of the President of the United States. Press access to the resort is tightly restricted, except for the occasional photo opportunity. VOA's George Dwyer was able to speak with some area residents who live in the shadow of Camp David to discuss its effect on their communities.

Camp David has served U.S. presidents and their families as a summer hideaway since 1942 -- offering a cool mountain respite from the sometimes-stifling summer heat of Washington, D.C. But Camp David is also used at other times of the year, as a uniquely private place for both business and relaxation.

"Camp David is an isolated area. Tourists cannot get close to it, it is fenced off (and) there is a large amount of government property there,” says Presidential historian Michael Barrone. He says the camp's isolation also makes it an ideal location for hosting foreign leaders and staging, sometimes, intensive negotiations as well.

"President George W. Bush has hosted foreign leaders there --P rime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who's just recently retired as Prime Minister, and several others have gone up there. And President Jimmy Carter conducted negotiations at Camp David with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and they reached an agreement known as the Camp David Accords in 1978, I believe it was."

And 87-year-old George Wireman of Thurmont, Maryland, the community closest to the camp, was here when it happened. "When Carter brought Begin and Sadat, then I realized, hey, we have really got something here in Thurmont we can be proud of."

Wireman is a local historian in Thurmont. He recently shared these images from his scrapbook about the Presidential retreat. He also shared his memories of the local institution known here as "Cozy." "You know the amazing thing about Cozy was the fact that it became headquarters for the news media. They would follow the President when he headed for Camp David but Cozy is as far as they would get."

Cozy is a resort complex just 10 kilometers from Camp David. Less exclusive than its more famous neighbor, it is still about as close as most people will ever get to experience Camp David itself. There is even a Camp David Museum.

Vickie Grinder is Cozy's general manager. She spoke about the items on display. "All of the articles and pictures that you see in the Camp David museum have been donated to Cozy. They have all been donated by the reporters who have stayed with us over the years."

News clippings and photographs of American Presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 are a reminder of Thurmont's special status in the shadow of history.

Grinder adds, "It is a pride when you go somewhere and people say:
'Well, where is Thurmont, Maryland?'
'Never heard of it.'
'Well, have you ever heard of Camp David, the presidential retreat?'
'Oh yes.'
And then that puts us on the map."

Wireman says he is proud and thankful, "But one thing I am very thankful for and that is the community of Thurmont realizes the importance of Camp David that it is a place for the president to go in private and relax. We have never, in any way, shape or form commercialized on that idea. And that goes good with me -- being the town historian."

Sometimes stories of what happens up on the mountain retreat known as Camp David find their way into headlines and history books. But much of what is known about Camp David comes from the local people here who are its neighbors.

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