(The Rapidan Camp) is a constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility, and of human frailty– for all men are equal before fishes.– President Herbert Hoover
From Milam Gap at Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, we descended the foot trail 1.8 miles to the camp. The Rapidan Camp, also known as Camp Hoover, was the presidential retreat of Herbert Hoover, America’s 31st President, 1929-1933.
The early afternoon was warm and cloudless as I carried my four-piece, seven-foot fly rod and my rolled-up waders with me on the trail. Richard, my brother-in-law, carried my wading shoes, in addition to water bottles. Before long, we reached the first of three stream crossings, our introduction to the several “prongs,” or tributaries, that would converge at Rapidan Camp to form the excellent Virginia trout stream known as the Rapidan.
A raven flew noisily among the steep mountains looming nearby. The first spring wildflowers, bloodroot and hepatica and trout lily, bloomed along the trail. Soon I saw the first small sign for anglers, saying we had reached the uppermost boundary of the catch-and-release section for native brook trout in the Rapidan watershed.
The Rapidan Camp has been restored to its 1929 appearance and contains three of its original 13 structures: the President’s Cabin (the Brown House), the Prime Minister’s Cabin, and the Creel. The original Camp Hoover, serving a man who “appreciated the isolation of remote accommodations,” was a precursor of the current presidential retreat, Camp David, located in Maryland.
Hoover had wanted a retreat within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., one whose minimum elevation of 2500 feet above sea-level would minimize the impact of mosquitoes and, most importantly, he wanted something with immediate access to quality trout fishing. Rapidan Camp fit the bill, and more.
Located on remote Doubletop Mountain on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, Rapidan Camp features the convergence of the Mill Prong and Laurel Prong to form the Rapidan. Native trout are plentiful in these streams. The U.S. Marine Corps built 13 assorted structures including a lodge, two mess halls, a “town hall,” cabins, hiking trails, stone fountain, trout pools, and a miniature golf course.
In 1929, the Commander in charge of construction wrote, “It would have been easier to have moved an army of 10,000 men across the Blue Ridge than to have built this camp. I have been amazed to find so wild an area existing here so close to eastern cities.” Indeed, the camp included electric lights and telephone, and had its mail dropped off by an airplane.
I was more amazed by the fact that the Rapidan’s water temperature was already 56 degrees F., that a small hatch of Quill Gordon mayflies was occurring, and that, by casting a dry stonefly pattern, a Stimulator, I was able to connect with trout after trout, wild brooks that were mostly small (approaching nine or 10 inches long), and wonderfully colored.
I gladly lost count of all the trout I carefully released. Rich enjoyed the rugged stream bank, the beauty of the pools and their fish, not to mention poking around the camp site and speculating on its history.
We were only the latest in a long line of visitors and guests. We hoped that the rustic beauty would remain as such and offer peace and solitude to hikers. Although there had been many notables at the camp throughout its heyday, including Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Winston Churchhill, it was good to think that we were equals in the eyes of trout.