Obamas to spend rare weekend at Camp David retreat

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President Barack Obama is foregoing his usual round of weekend golf at a Washington suburban military base. Instead, he and his family are choosing what is for them a rare woodland getaway: a weekend at the presidential mountaintop retreat of Camp David.

The family was leaving Friday for the isolated and heavily guarded hideaway in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. The White House said the family weekend had already been planned and that he would return to the White House on Sunday.

The escape from the White House caps a fierce week of foreign policy eruptions, highlighted by a downed commercial jet liner over Ukraine and Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza, as well as maneuvers over how to address a surge of Central American migrants at the U.S. border.

Camp David is an unusual destination for Obama. His last visit was Aug. 3-4 of 2013, almost a year ago, when he celebrated his 52nd birthday.

The trip will be his 33rd visit to Camp David, according to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, the unofficial but meticulous chronicler of presidential outings. Obama went to Camp David only three times in 2013.

About 1,800 feet above sea level and about 70 miles from the White House, the camp occupies at least 125 acres, is protected by Marines and, though nestled in the Catoctin Mountains, it is part of the Navy’s budget. A short drive from the town of Thurmont in northern Maryland, the compound is not marked by road signs and is ringed by imposing security fences.

On the grounds, presidents and their guests can enjoy an abbreviated game of golf, play tennis, bowl, swim in the heated pool, even shoot skeet.

Obama hosted the leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations at Camp David in 2012. It was the largest gathering of foreign leaders ever to assemble there.

Camp David has been a weekend presidential refuge since 1942, when Franklin D. Roosevelt decided he wanted to flee Washington’s muggy summers and still stay close to the capital during wartime. Roosevelt named it “Shangri-la,” the fictional valley in James Hilton’s 1933 novel “Lost Horizon.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the retreat after his grandson David. It also retains its official pedestrian name: Naval Support Facility Thurmont.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.