Rustic? Not so much. But this weekend, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and presumably 11-year-old Barron are testing the woodsy digs at Camp David, the rural presidential getaway deep in the mountains of Maryland. It will be the President’s first trip to Camp David, and his first weekend overnight trip away from the White House not at a Trump-named property.
It’s an unusual decision for the President, who is widely known as someone who doesn’t like to disrupt his daily routine or spend weekends anywhere except at Trump-branded properties.
More to the point on this weekend’s overnighter, the President appears to have a predisposed opinion of Camp David, which he shared with a European journalist shortly before he was sworn in.
“Camp David is very rustic. It’s nice, you’d like it,” he quipped. “You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”
But others speak of the presidential retreat more kindly.
“It’s a place they can let their hair down and relax,” says Marti Mongiello, who in the 1990s worked as a chef and manager at Camp David, which is located near the tiny town of Thurmont, Maryland. “There aren’t people waiting to take pictures. If they want to walk and feel alone in the woods, they can do that.”
Mongiello, a colorful figure who now runs a small North Carolina inn which is also home to the Presidential Culinary Museum, served the Clintons during his tenure. He says he is familiar with Trump’s eating habits as well, having consulted on a handful of Trump property restaurants.
“If and when they are at Camp David, the place will be stocked with his favorites, those Keebler Vienna Fingers cookies, and better have the Lay’s potato chips,” he said, adding that the Secret Service will also have probably checked out the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken locations, just in case POTUS gets a craving. “You have to figure that out. They’ll map, know, target and analyze how to get in and get out of at least three locations,” he said, adding that staff got used to fast food runs during Bill Clinton’s visits.
(For the record, there’s a KFC in Thurmont that’s open until midnight on Saturdays, and one just over the border in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, about a 25-minute drive from Camp David.)
Outside of easy access to fried chicken, Trump could also get to know Camp David for its security purposes; it’s a fully activated government safe zone, just a 20-minute Marine One helicopter ride from the South Lawn of the White House.
“There’s a great element of secrecy,” Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird told CNN in March. “But, I like to say, it doesn’t really affect the residents. The President comes and goes and we don’t ever really know about it.”
Trump, a lover of pomp and circumstance who craves the roar of a crowd, probably won’t like that part much either.
And then there’s the mice.
“You’re in the woods, on top of a mountain, so if you see a mouse in the house, don’t lose your mind,” Mongiello said, recounting one such episode with first lady Hillary Clinton screaming after seeing a rodent. “The Secret Service came running,” he said.
However, most first ladies enjoy accompanying their husbands to Camp David, which has approximately 16 cabins that serve as full-service “houses,” complete with top-notch amenities and plenty of staff to assist VIP needs.
There’s skeet shooting, basketball, tennis, horseback riding, rock climbing, a movie theater, bowling, even laser tag — not to mention so many hiking trails that it’s easy to get lost.
“Rosalynn Carter tells a great story about walking, seemingly alone, in the woods there with her mother, and her mom being alarmed by the sound of leaves crunching behind them,” said Kate Andersen Brower, a CNN contributor and author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.” “It was Rosalynn’s Secret Service agent trailing them. So even though it’s more private, the first family still isn’t ever completely alone.”
George W. Bush spent every Christmas as president with his family at Camp David.
“[It] was like a sanctuary for the Bushes and for a lot of other presidents,” Anita McBride, first lady Laura Bush’s former chief of staff, told CNN. “George W. and Laura Bush I think had an exceptional relationship with Camp David because they had spent so much time there. It gave President Bush an opportunity to relax, to have the outdoors at his feet, to get on his bike, to ride around, to just have that freedom of movement that you really don’t have when you’re living in the White House.”
Hiking, hoops, horses — not exactly the hobbies of Donald J. Trump. However, there is golf. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a one-hole “course” with multiple tees built outside the Aspen cabin, where most presidents stay. If that doesn’t do the trick, Trump can tee off at the Camp David driving range, adjacent to the helicopter pad.
Still, if activities and relaxation aren’t his thing, Trump might want to consider Camp David for work purposes; many presidents have entertained foreign leaders there.
“He may not be the kind of person that likes a rustic atmosphere, and that’s what you’ll find at Camp David,” says Kinnaird. “At some point, you’ll find President Trump at Camp David for whatever reason, whether it’s a family getaway, whether it’s a sensitive meeting that they want to have close to Washington, and it’s a nice place to visit. I think he’ll be up here.”
This weekend could be the deciding factor. Or it could send Trump back to the gilded confines of a Trump property.