President Trump leaves the White House on Saturday for his first visit to presidential retreat Camp David, a rustic departure from Trump’s usual weekend getaways to his resort-style, luxury country clubs.
The government-owned retreat is in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, just a short helicopter ride from Washington.
Trump, a New York real estate mogul whose permanent residence is a gilded penthouse inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, is not expected to make Camp David a regular getaway. He told foreign newspapers earlier this year that the retreat was “very rustic” and “you know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”
Presidents have been going from the White House to Camp David for seven decades — for pleasure and some historic diplomatic negotiations.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill there in 1943, reviewing plans for the invasion of Normandy. Jimmy Carter used it for peace talks between Egypt and Israel. George H.W. Bush’s daughter Dorothy, or “Doro,” got married there.
President Barack Obama unofficially visited the retreat 39 times, but only hosted world leaders twice, the G8 Summit in 2012 and a 2015 meeting with Persian Gulf leaders about the Iran nuclear deal.
“Everything that a president needs in the White House is built in there,” says Anita McBride, who was first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “You have military support. You have a place to house your staff if you chose to use it. It is immediately available. … Within 20 minutes you can be there.”
Camp David covers more than 125 acres, with a cabin for the president and about a dozen cabins for guests. Guests can use tennis courts, a heated swimming pool, a bowling alley and a movie theater. For the golf-loving Trump, there is a single golf hole with multiple tees.
Protected by the Marines as part of the Navy budget, Camp David has been utilized more by some presidents than others. By this point in their presidencies, Obama had visited four times, George W. Bush 11 times and Bill Clinton twice, according to CBS News’ Mark Knoller, who tracks presidential travel.
Locals haven’t seemed too concerned about when Trump might show up. As lifelong resident Donna Bollinger, 63, put it, the town of Thurmont often barely knows when presidents are nearby, given the secluded nature of the retreat.
Now the manager of the Bollinger Family Restaurant, she recalls as a child seeing presidents come to the town’s Episcopal Church. “I remember Mr. Eisenhower. I remember Mr. Johnson being there, and Mr. Nixon,” she said.
So far, Trump has preferred his own properties. He regularly headed to his private club Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, during the early days of his administration, embracing it as the “winter White House” and using it to host the leaders of Japan and China. More recently he has favored his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he also has a home.
Going to his properties incurs additional security expenses, unlike a trip to Camp David, which is protected year-round as a military installation.
The first president to use the retreat was Roosevelt in 1942. He was looking for an escape from Washington’s summer heat, while still remaining nearby during World War II. He dubbed the site Shangri-La, but Dwight Eisenhower, a regular visitor, later renamed it after his grandson.
John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were infrequent visitors, though they did use the camp to meet with advisers from time to time. Richard Nixon was a fan of getting away there as was Ronald Reagan.
McBride said George W. Bush loved to ride his bike around the trails, while wife Laura liked to go hiking. “It was a place that really refreshed them,” she said.
If Trump doesn’t make it to Camp David much, Bollinger said she’d love to go in his place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.