Catoctin Mountain Park was originally submarginal land purchased by
the government in 1936, to be developed into a recreational facility.
The facility was to demonstrate how rough terrain and eroded soil
could be turned into productive land again. The New Deal's Works
Progress Administration, WPA, began the work in the newly created
Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area, joined by the Civilian
Conservation Crops, CCC, in 1939.
Camp Misty Mount was first used by the Maryland League for Crippled
Children. After the first year, the League moved to a second camp in
1938, Camp Greentop, because Camp Misty Mount's terrain was difficult
to negotiate in a wheelchair. A third camp, Camp Hi-Catoctin, was
completed in the winter of 1938-1939 and was used for three years as a
family camp for federal employees.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was accustomed to seeking relief
from hot Washington, D.C. summers and relaxing on weekends, aboard the
presidential yacht "Potomac" or at Hyde Park, NY. In 1942
the U.S. Secret Service were very concerned about the President's
continued use of the "Potomac." World War II had brought an
attack on Pearl Harbor and German U boats close in Atlantic
Presidential safety was a concern and Presidential health was also
a concern. The muggy climate of Washington, D.C., was considered
detrimental to his health, affecting his sinuses. A new retreat, a
place to relax, within a 100 mile radius of Washington, D.C. and in
cool mountain air was sought. Several sites were considered but
Camp Hi-Catoctin in the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was
selected after the President's first visit on April 22, 1942. A camp
was already built on the site and the estimated conversion cost was
It was also almost 10 degrees cooler than Washington. The
camp for federal employee's families became the camp of one federal
employee, the President of the United States. Roosevelt quickly
renamed the camp to "Shangri-La" from James Hilton's 1933
novel, Lost Horizon.
At the close of World War II, there was some debate over the future
of Shangri-La. Should it be returned to the National Park Service?
Should it be maintained as a national shrine or monument? Should it be
transferred to the Maryland State Forest and Park System as was the
original plan of the demonstration area? In a letter to Maryland
Governor Herbert R. O'Connor, President Truman wrote:
I have decided because of the historical events of national and
international interest now associated with the Catoctin Recreation
Area that this property should be retained by the National Park
Service of the Department of the Interior. This action is in accord
with the position expressed by the late President Roosevelt before
In 1952 Truman approved a compromise under which the land north of
Maryland Route 77 would remain Catoctin Mountain Park operated by the
National Park Service and the land south of Maryland Route 77 would
become Cunningham Falls State Park. The official transfer took effect
in 1954. President Eisenhower renamed the retreat, after he took
office in 1953, "Camp David," after his grandson.
Camp David continues to serve as the Presidential Retreat today. It
is a private, secluded place for recreation, contemplation, rest, and
relaxation. Many historical events have occurred at the Presidential
Retreat; the planning of the Normandy invasion, Eisenhower-Khrushchev
meetings, Camp David Accords with Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar
Sadat of Egypt, discussions of the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam War
discussions, and many other meetings with foreign dignitaries and
guests. Maintaining the privacy and secluded atmosphere of the retreat
is an important role for Catoctin Mountain Park.
The Presidential Retreat still remains within park boundaries but
is not open to the public. It is a place where presidents can relax,
unwind, contemplate, entertain distinguished guests in an informal
setting, and cope with the pressures of modern day society. We hope
that you will also understand the value of a place of privacy for the
President and accept that the retreat is not open to visitors.
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