In some ways, the setting is improbable, a rustic island of relaxation in an unsightly metropolitan sea of ramps, overpasses, exhaust fumes, traffic noise, 18-wheelers and commuter cars.
In other ways, it's ideal. Just 10 miles from downtown Washington, Maryland's largest campground bills itself as "a monumental experience." Its logo, its ads and its promotional T-shirts and caps feature a tent and a recreational vehicle, along with the Capitol, the White House and the Washington Monument.
While other tourists head for motels, hotels and bed and breakfasts, 27,000, most of them members of the recreational vehicle crowd, have come during the last year to Cherry Hill Park, at Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway.
"The only problem is the noise," said Don Strange, of Auckland, New Zealand. "It never stops. We come from places where it's always quiet."
Strange was talking above the traffic sounds that resonate around this 53-acre triangle bounded by the Beltway, the interstate and the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville.
This is not a no-frills campground for the young, the poor or the adventurous. This is a resort by the Beltway, with a large outdoor pool, gas street lamps, Jazzercise fitness classes and a clubhouse-convention center, featuring meeting rooms named after presidents, a Jacuzzi, sauna, large-screen television room, 34 washers and dryers, a pool table, video games, snack bar and a 3,600-square-foot ballroom where banquets and dances are held.
"They want wilderness camping, they go to a wilderness," said Gerry Gurevich, a park manager. "They want Washington, D.C., they come here."
Indeed, the camp gift shop sells the same souvenirs that are available downtown: D.C. mugs, plates, paperweights, rulers, T-shirts, caps, thimbles, key chains, spoons, pens, bracelets, banners, postcards and posters.
In this post-Labor Day period, the $8 million park is beginning its second season, catering largely to retirees.
They come from across the country and around the world -- on a recent Thursday from 29 states, three Canadian provinces, five European countries and Australia. Most of the Europeans are young adults on budget tours. They ride in a van, cook out and sleep in tents.
"The pebble ground is not made for camping," observed John Simpkins, a tour guide and driver for one such group. "We're paying a lot of money for proximity, in my opinion."
Echoed Patrick Frei, 27, of Switzerland, "To sleep in a tent, it's a little hard. If you have these mobiles, it's okay, but it's not for tents."
It's not surprising the ground is rock-hard, because most of the campground was once a gravel mine. Under construction are two ponds, which will have boats and fish. The campground has 210 camping sites. Eventually, there will be 400.
That would make it the largest tourist accommodation in Prince George's County, park owners say, and the equivalent of a medium-sized hotel, according to Mary Patten, of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association. The next closest recreational vehicle facility is the 113-site Capital KOA Campground in Millersville, closer to Baltimore than Washington and part of a national chain.
Cherry Hill is no franchise. It is owned and operated by the Gureviches. Jacob Gurevich, a Russian immigrant, moved from the District in 1915 to a nearby site on Route 1, where for years he had a chicken farm. Seventy-five years later, his grandson, Norman, and great-grandsons Gerry and Michael are in charge. Norman's wife, Joan, runs the camp store. Michael's wife, Linda, does the legal work.
Over the years, the business evolved from chickens to a general store with gas pumps on Route 1 to Cherry Hill Campcity for tents and trailers. Two years ago, the Gureviches acquired land nearby for the new park and shut the old place.
For the recreational vehicle campers, the park provides cable television, private telephone lines and 50 amperes of power "so that you can run two air conditioners, cook dinner and watch TV," Gerry Gurevich said.
Park users pay for such features, including $28 per recreational vehicle and two people, plus $2 for each additional person. Tent campers, a distinct minority, pay $26 for two persons.
"We used to stay south of Washington," said George Magnon, of Lafayette, La. "It was a nice park, but the last few years, there were a lot of transients, bums. The prices they charge here, not everyone will come in."
One recent weekday, three young people with a pup tent and an old Corolla with a failing transmission praised the facilities, but complained about the cost. Their tent was pitched next to a $325,000 Beaver motor coach, one of 23 that converged on the park for a manufacturer-sponsored "rally."
But many low-budget campers are satisfied. "I'm impressed with the facilities," said Darren Russell, 20, of New Zealand, one of the tenting trio. "I can't wait to watch the U.S. Open on the big-screen TV."
Evenings at the campground are lively. Campers meet, stroll the grounds and sit by the pool. On Tuesdays, the park offers a barbecue supper followed by a night bus tour of the nation's capital.
At midday, the park is deserted, like a bedroom community whose residents have gone off to work, or, more properly, like a commuter parking lot.
And like commuters, the transient residents line up early in the morning at the bus stop in the park and return several hours later. Gray Line tour buses provide direct transportation to downtown. The Route 82 Metrobuses deposit their passengers at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station.
"Drivers try to get this route," said Metrobus driver Dana M. Baker. "They say it's a sweet run. That means it's easy, not a lot of work, not a lot of turns, a straight shot. The people out here are pretty easygoing, friendly."
And why not? Work-weary commuters may be clogging the Beltway, but at Cherry Hill Park, they're all on vacation.
Said Dick Lunstrum, of Edmunds, Wash., "The highway noise affects everybody. I hear it. But after a full day in Washington, D.C., I'm too tired to let it bother me. It's kind of hard work being a tourist."