International presence: Tiny Thurmont prepares to host G-8 summit

President Clinton, center, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, walk on the grounds of Camp David July 11, 2000, during a Mideast summit.
President Clinton, center, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, walk on the grounds of Camp David July 11, 2000, during a Mideast summit. (AP FILE PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

THURMONT - The highlights of presidential trips to Camp David are chronicled at the Historic Cozy Inn's museum.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fishing lure is kept in a protective case there.

President George H. W. Bush is photographed with his beloved springer spaniel Millie.

The wall space devoted to President Barack Obama is mostly bare, save for a few small photos, in part because he doesn't visit the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains as much as his predecessors. It's also because he hasn't yet hosted a major event there in his presidency.

That's about to change.

Camp David will serve as the host site for the G-8 economic summit May 18-19, flooding nearby Thurmont with foreign and domestic media and possible protests.

The G-8 summit is a forum for the world's eight largest economies. The White House abruptly moved the G-8 summit, originally scheduled for Chicago, to Camp David earlier this month.

This will be the first time the G-8 summit has been held at Camp David, a retreat nestled in Catoctin Mountain Park just six miles north of Thurmont.

This is the sixth time the summit has been hosted by the United States. Previous meeting spots include Williamsburg, Va., in 1983, Denver in 1997 and Sea Island, Ga., in 2004.

Previous presidents have used Camp David for discussions with foreign dignitaries.

Jimmy Carter used the retreat for the Camp David Accords, which served as a framework for peace in the Middle East and for a conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1978. Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin joined Carter at Camp David for the talks.

In 2000, President William J. Clinton held the Mid East Summit at Camp David, where Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat met to discuss a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thurmont town officials said this will be the most significant gathering since then.

The hotel rooms closest to Camp David in Thurmont have already sold out for the G-8 summit time frame, according to the Tourism Council of Frederick County.

As of March 15, 76 percent of upper-midscale hotel rooms and 78 percent of economy rooms were booked at all Frederick County hotels, according to the Tourism Council.

Many of the hotel rooms are being booked by foreign and domestic press. Thousands of reporters are expected to cover the summit, giving the tiny town of Thurmont, with a population of nearly 6,200 a unique opportunity to promote themselves.

"With the amount of foreign press expected, it gives us a chance to showcase our businesses and our communities," said Cindy McKane-Wagester, Thurmont's Main Street Manager, who is working with town officials on a plan to do just that.

Town commissioner John Kinnaird said he doesn't expect many major problems with demonstrations. Protesters won't have a way to get anywhere close to the leaders meeting at Camp David.

Even though Thurmont is just six miles from Camp David, it's rare for those who live there to receive a visit from a major political figure or a family member.

President Richard Nixon and Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev landed in a helicopter at Catoctin High School nearly 40 years ago when foul weather prevented a Camp David landing, Thurmont administrative officer Bill Blakeslee told the Associated Press.

"You just don't see them anymore," said Kinnaird, referring to presidents and political staff visiting there.

Often, the only way Thurmont residents know the president is at Camp David is if they hear the three helicopters transporting staff there or if they encounter a motorcade-related temporary road closure along Md. 77, which provides access to Catoctin Mountain Park.

Park ranger Matt Gilford said during typical presidential visits, trails from Hog Rock to Blue Ridge Summit are closed. The public are warned, but the reasons for the closures are not given.

The closures of trails near Camp David started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.

"It is not discussed," he said of presidents using Camp David. "It is not put out. Everything is kept under wraps."

From his post at the Catoctin Mountain Park visitor center, he is allowed to discuss the history of Camp David and the events that have taken place there. He can't say where the camp is. Many longtime Frederick County residents aren't even sure of its exact location, he said.

Visitors frequently ask about Camp David, he said. A book chronicling presidential visits to Camp David was sold out at the Visitor Center as of Thursday.

Park superintendent Mel Poole told the Associated Press that campers might be barred during the G-8 meeting. That decision will be made by the Secret Service, he said.

The Historic Cozy Inn sold out of rooms within the first hour after news of the G-8 summit switching venues broke.

The museum located on the Cozy property has its best chance yet to gather memorabilia and photos, when world leaders descend on Camp David in just a few months.

"This," McKane-Wagester said, "is an extraordinary opportunity for all of us."

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