'Wild' Bill does Wild, Wonderful

April 23, 1998

Tim Rowland

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Since we have a couple of moments here, let's sit down and review President Clinton's travel itinerary over the past couple of weeks:

Let's see, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Chile, Argentina, West Virginia - what, who? West Virginia? Don't tell me Jefferson County wants most-favored-nation trading status, too.

Really, how did the Tri-State become part of the great Paula Jones Avoidance Tour of 1998? Did someone on the travel team mistake the Shenandoah for the Blue Nile? Or was the president in Harpers Ferry to do a little "whitewater" rafting?


The company line was that, to celebrate Earth Day, noted adventurists President "Wild" Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore-Tex visited a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The presidential press release said the two most powerful men in the world would spend an hour "participating in maintenance work" on the venerable footpath.

Some scenarios make me uneasy, and the thought of the president alone in the woods with a few members of the press and a chain saw is one of them.

What makes me more uneasy is that, given that the public's opinion of the media is generally the same as its opinion of shower-curtain mold, had there been some sort of "accident" in the woods the president's approval rating probably would top 100.

Just to be certain, I didn't go with the media pool, which meant I only got to see the president from the throat up at a distance of about 100 yards.

Even that was more than some. Hard-hitting journalist that I am, I asked the clerk in the Bolivar 7-Eleven whether the leader of the free world had stopped by for a couple of Big Bites. But no scoop. "He went by so fast I didn't even see him; hardly seems fair," she said.

The president, in his speech, said Earth Day wasn't about politics, although he did point out that if Republicans had their way they would pump the planet full of explosive pesticides and blow it up.

Prior to his remarks he actually got out on the trail to plant some phlox and stack some rocks, which started me thinking.

I've done some backpacking in my day, and I know from experience you do not read a lot of newspaper accounts when you're out in the bush.

So I would be almost certain there were some Appalachian Trail hikers out there who had been incommunicado for days, weeks or even months, and had no clue what Clinton was up to.

There are a number of things an outdoorsman does not expect in the wilderness, and one of them has to be rounding a bend to find the president of the United States fishing a snag out of Meadow Brook.

Imagine that phone call home.

"Honey, you'll never guess what happened! I was in the middle of nowhere someplace in the Blue Ridge Mountains and who do I see but Bill Clinton and Al Gore picking up sticks by the side of the trail. So I stop and I say to them - what dear? Yes, I've been remembering to wear my sun block and - what? No dear, I haven't been eating any strange berries and I swear that - hello - hello? Operator!"

Any hikers who bumped into the president should have insisted on getting his business card as proof.

Even if they didn't, a few broken marriages are a small price to pay for a presidential affirmation of the value of our natural resources - forgetting for the moment that in order to pluck a few weeds in an environmental setting, the president's battalion of choppers and limos probably burned about 10,000 gallons of irreplaceable fossil fuel, not to mention the traffic and congestion and confusion of all those who come to see him.

It's the message that's important. And that message is, on Earth Day, you're better off staying indoors.

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