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Renovating Rapidan Camp
Rapidan Camp restored by Shenandoah National Park, showed by guides who trade lodging for tours

 Cass Ray, a retired teacher from New York, has spent the summer as a volunteer interpreter at Rapidan Camp in Shenandoah National Park.
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Date published: 10/9/2005


SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK--Reed Engle and Cass Ray have played very different roles in the recent reopening to the public of Rapidan Camp, the compound Herbert Hoover created as a summer White House on land now in Shenandoah National Park.

Engle, the park's cultural-resource officer and an architectural historian, was involved in all facets of the camp's restoration.

He helped oversee the restoration of the rough-hewn buildings at the camp to their condition in the early 1930s, when Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover chose the pristine, 164-acre spot at the headwaters of the Rapidan River to flee the heat of summer.

Engle also coordinated the recent creation and opening of a small, self-guided exhibit/museum on the camp grounds that tells the story of the complex Hoover had built by a company of Marines billeted there full time.

And, in perhaps the most difficult part of the restoration, he joined other park officials in a years-long search of antiques emporiums, second-hand stores and artisans' shops to find or replicate the eclectic, rough-hewn furniture used to furnish the camp buildings.

Ray isn't a park service employee, but he and a small group of others play a big part in opening Rapidan Camp to the public.

Although the park was able to use some $400,000 in entrance-fee revenues toward the restoration over the past eight years, there's no money in the park's budget to hire full-time interpreters for the camp near the juncture of Laurel Prong and Mill Prong, where the Rapidan begins.

So Ray and a handful of others have made a trade.

In return for the opportunity to live, rent free, for weeks or months in the newly restored Creel Cabin on the site, they act as interpreters for the many visitors who make the 4.1-mile round-trip hike to the camp. It's Mill Prong Trail, accessed at Milam Gap, at Mile 52.8.

The park also offers guided van trips that leave from Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows.

Ray, who recently retired as a teacher in East Aurora, N. Y., enjoys sharing information he's gleaned about the camp over the past year or two with visitors.

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