It wasn't your usual White House protest -- ninteen 13- and 14-year-olds in ankle-length aprons and ruffled caps, traipsing around in a circle chanting, "Save Turkey Run Farm."
The youngsters, all eighth graders at Potomac School in McClean, were outside the White House last week to protest a plan by the National Park Service to close Turkey Run Farm, a working replica of a Colonial farm set of 120 acres near the CIA in McLean.
"It's just not fair," said eighth grader Ann Luskey, one of the protestors. "(Turkey Run Farm) . . . is not just some history you read in a book. It's something you participate in . . . it makes history come alive."
Earlier this month, the National Park Service proposed a $3.3 million budget cut for the programs in the Washington area. The cuts would mean the closing of Turkey Run Farm, which has an annual budget of $159,000. m
For area students, that meant the end to excursions, such as the three-day trip Potomac students had planned for May. Last year, more than 39,000 people visited Turkey Run. Already this year, farm officials had schedled weekend camping trips for more than 1,3000 Washington-area students.
Soon after proposed budget cuts were announced, park service officials received thousands of lettters and phone calls protesting the cuts, which also included plans to elimiate the lightship "Chesapeake," some programs at Glen Echo Park, tours at Great Falls Park and nighttime barge trips along the C & O Canal.
Last week, park planners said the plan to eliminate the programs was being reviewed, a standard procedure when cutbacks are proposed, and no final decision had been reached.
"They (the budget cuts) were always proposals and Turkey Run Farm is only one of nearly 200 items that will be reviewed," park service spokeswoman Sandra Alley said. No date for a final decision has been set, but Turkey Run officials have been told to prepare to close this weekend.
If park service officials go ahead with their decision to close Turkey Run, teachers and residents familiar with the farm program say an unusual and popular opportunity to go beyond the textbook will be lost.
Since the camping program began more than four years ago, over 1,000 students have spent three days in spring living the life of poor Colonial farmers. The youngesters dress in period garb, camp in linen tents, cook over open fires and draw water from wooden bells. No semblance of the 20th century is allowed; even toothbrushes are fashoned out of birch twigs found at the farm.
Although there are other "living experiments" in the area, Turkey Run is the only one that recreates life on a small, and poor, farm in Colonial times. Oxon Hill Farm in Prince George's County has a small overnight program that shows 19th century farm life, and National Colonial Farm in Prince George's, which has no camping program, depicts upper-crust Colonial life.
"(The Turkey Run program) gives the kids a sense of comparison to the usual Ben Franklin aristocratic Colonial type they so frequently hear about . . . After only a few hours they quickly acquire an appreciation of the no-frills life -- what the hardships were of being a simple farmer," said Abigail Wiebenson, assistant head of the lower school Georgetown Day in Washington.
Wiebenson has been taking her students to Turkey Run for three year. "The first year we were rained out by a torndo. The second year there were gales. But we still keep going back . . . You can't imagine what a wonderful experience it is."
Diane Onks, a fifth grade teacher at Orange Hunt Elementary in Farifax County, said parents have donated more than $1,000 toward a trip for 62 students in June.
"We have put hundreds and hundreds of hours toward this," said Onks. "The park service sold us on the idea and now they're saying we can't go . . .
"It's ironic. Here we have been teaching the kids about American history and democracy -- how everyone counts. And this happens."