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Presidential Inauguration's Hard-Core Happy Campers

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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2008

With hotel rooms booking up fast, visitors who want to witness President-elect Barack Obama's historic inauguration are snapping up spots at campgrounds in Washington's suburbs and as far away as West Virginia, reserving unheated cabins, renting RVs and inquiring whether it would be feasible to camp in a tent.

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"They said, 'How cold's it going to be?' " said Everett Lovell, who owns the Aquia Pines Camp Resort in Stafford County, which has five cabins but only two that can be used in winter. "We were just inundated with calls about our cabins. One lady wanted to come in a pop-up," an uninsulated trailer that unfolds into a primitive camper.

Lovell, 51, said he has never seen such interest for a presidential inauguration. The only thing to compare it to, he said, was back in the days when the Grateful Dead was touring and followed by thousands of die-hard fans. "There's just a wild amount of interest," Lovell said. "It's just like a euphoria."

The Fairfax County Park Authority, which has only one year-round camping area, received so many inquiries that officials considered opening Burke Lake Park, just for the month of January, when the temperature typically dips into the 20s at night around inauguration time. For now, they have decided to wait and see whether all 136 spots fill up at Lake Fairfax, spokeswoman Judith Pedersen said. "This is uncharted territory for us."

Dale Brechlin, general manager of the Harper's Ferry KOA campground resort, said his phone started ringing last week with inquiries about space for the inauguration. By Wednesday, six reservations in cabins and lodges had been booked. "Historically, that weekend I have zero," he said.

The Harper's Ferry campsite has 43 cabins or lodges starting at $65 a night. "A cabin is a bare four walls, a bed, a token light bulb, heat, air conditioning, a porch swing and a picnic table," Brechlin said. If you want to shower, you don flip-flops and head to the bathhouse. "It's not quite a Woodstock issue, where you pull up a tarp," he said.

The lodges are a little swankier: They have kitchens and baths and go for $130 a night. Linens are not included.

Brechlin said a lot of the calls were spillover from a campsite closer to the District that cannot accommodate winter visitors. "Our D.C. operation has been overwhelmed," he said.

That would be Capitol KOA in Anne Arundel County. The site's general manager, Brian Goddard, said about one of every four calls last week was related to the inauguration. But Goddard, whose campground was built 35 years ago, must close for the winter because the camp's water is not operative in cold weather.

At Bull Run Regional Park in Fairfax County, however, six cabins were up for grabs, said Shelly Kees, a volunteer at the park. "I just rented the last one."

Less than a quarter mile from the Aquia Pines Camp Resort, a clerk at the Hampton Inn said a room with a king-size bed goes for $120 a night, but there's, well, no room in the inn now. The story is the same at the Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel in downtown Richmond, where rooms cost $139 to $259. The hotel is booked on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.

Donna Nelson, 42, of Sellersburg, Ind., said she has never rented an RV -- or driven one -- but she plunked down $675 for a model that sleeps up to eight people. She called to reserve a cabin at Aquia Pines, about 50 miles from the capital, but the place was booked, so she decided to rent the RV.


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