THURMONT - With Israeli and Palestinian officials planning to gather near this small town for a high-level summit meeting next week, members of the local volunteer fire department have an idea that could lighten negotiations.
They want leaders of both sides to attend their department's annual carnival, maybe watch fireworks, attend a small parade and enjoy some "good eats." But, unlike people in other towns who might get excited that history could be made just a few miles down the road, Thurmont residents and members of the Guardian Fire Company seem unfazed.
They say they would probably charge the leaders admission to enjoy the carousel and other "thrill rides" at their celebration.
"We've done this before," said Wayne Stackhouse, president of the fire company, referring to a major Middle East summit that was held at the same site in 1978. "Reporters and [officials] were all hustling and bustling around. The town's people kind of took a back seat."
On Tuesday, President Clinton is expected to begin presiding over a summit between Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains, five miles outside of town. U.S. officials hope the summit might ease tensions and perhaps lead to a final peace agreement before the two sides' self-imposed deadline of Sept. 13.
Next week's meeting recalls the 1978 historic summit orchestrated by President Jimmy Carter between Israeli and Egyptian leaders that led to the a major peace treaty the next year. That treaty is considered Carter's most lasting foreign policy achievement, and Clinton seems to be hoping to echo it.
All of Thurmont's 97 hotel rooms sold out within hours of Clinton's announcement of the summit Wednesday, and hoteliers began referring reporters to motels in Frederick and Emmitsburg. A White House official said last night that an elementary school in Thurmont would serve as the news media headquarters.
But locals say they aren't too concerned about an invasion of officials and journalists. They've done this before, having played host to other presidents, who enjoyed the comforts of nearby Camp David, a presidential retreat that has been the site of other meetings between leaders from around the globe.
The mayor, Eileen Waesche, said she could recall only a single incident from the 1978 summit: reporters trying to buy swimming trunks at a men's clothing store for a swim in nearby streams or pools.
"It's not going to bother us," the mayor said. "We're country people. We're laid-back."
The town's Police Department hasn't made plans to deal with increasing crowds of journalists mingling with carnivalgoers, who fire department officials say can number 5,000 a night. Lt. Terry Frushour, who was on the force in 1978, said the department did not staff extra police then, when the town had only three officers. Twenty-two years later, he has eight officers and said he doesn't plan to ask for reinforcements.
"Last time we didn't," he said. "We're going to wait and see."
Thurmont, settled in 1751, has grown considerably since 1978, when it had about 2,500 residents. Its population exceeds 5,000, and new developments of townhouses are popping up near town, mixing with 19th-century homes.
The town, just off a four-lane highway, Route 15, is framed by the gently sloping rise of the Catoctin Mountains, and parts of downtown make visitors feel as if they are stepping back into the 1800s. The streets are narrow, and the homes sit close to the street.
Fred Sloviko, who owns the Rambler Motel, says the summit means more business in an already-busy tourist season. The nearby national and state parks, he said, are the big draws.
His 30 rooms filled up Wednesday, shortly after the announcement, and Sloviko said reporters and Israeli officials will be staying at the Rambler, where the rooms average between $52 to $82 a night.
Sloviko remembers celebrity journalists staying at the Rambler in'78, as meetings took place up the mountain," local parlance for Camp David.
He and his wife, Emily, noted that journalists can be tough guests. "They think they run the place," Emily Sloviko said.
The Slovikos are excited that world leaders will be negotiating a high-stakes foreign policy dispute a few miles from their motel. "We're glad the two groups are getting together," Fred Sloviko said.
Treaty on the course
At the town's 18-hole golf course, the local pro, Greg Long, leaned back in his chair yesterday and said the summit was no big deal. Clinton has played here 16 times since late 1997, Long said, and has hacked away with several Hollywood stars, including Ted Danson and Steven Spielberg.
Like the firefighters, Long thought he could help break the ice if negotiations grew too tense: Have Barak and Arafat borrow clubs and play 18 holes with Clinton.
"It might be nice to see him bring the guys over," Long said. "Maybe they could sign a treaty on one of our greens."
At the Cozy Country Inn, just outside downtown on Frederick Road, the owner, Jerry Freeze, recalls the summit of 1978 and displays news clippings, autographed photographs of TV journalists at his neighboring Cozy Restaurant.
His father built the place in 1929, and Freeze began working here in the 1950s.
Rooms all booked
Freeze said he received a heads-up weeks before most others had learned about a summit at Camp David. About three weeks ago, he said, Israeli officials called, asking if he had rooms available. But the Israelis didn't book the rooms, which are named after past presidents, foreign dignitaries and major news organizations.
On Wednesday, Freeze said, a State Department official entered the inn and booked 17 of the 21 rooms. A few hours later, the Israelis called again, but they were too late: All the rooms were gone.
"We usually know about [the meetings] in advance," Freeze said, grinning.