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Many decide to travel short distances for holiday

May 27, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Seated on a shady hill overlooking the lake at Greenbrier State Park, Danilo Sarmiento tapped an empty water bottle against his leg, keeping time as Eric Ortega sat beside him, playing gospel music on a keyboard balanced on his lap.

The men, members of an evangelical church in Washington, D.C., were two of the hundreds of out-of-town visitors who made the trip Monday to Washington County to spend their Memorial Day holiday at the county's parks, shops and other attractions.

Visitors from Washington, D.C., Fairfax, Va., Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, Md., and other areas said that in the face of record gas prices, Washington County presented an attractive spot for recreation relatively close to home.

A popular Washington County destination was Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, where families like the Chaus of Silver Spring browsed outdoor sale racks looking for holiday bargains.

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Khashifi Palm, who was on a trip from South Africa to visit relatives in Baltimore, said the outlets were a natural stop on the way back from a trip to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.

Her host, James Douglas, said if money wasn't so tight, he might have taken his guests on a cruise, instead.

"If I had money, I would go to California, but with gas prices, we can't drive far," Freddy Santoyo of Gaithersburg said as he lounged under a tree enjoying a picnic with friends and family at Greenbrier. The park was the closest place he knew of that offered picnic facilities and a place to swim, he said.

Greenbrier was such a popular destination this Memorial Day that Crystal Whittington of Hagerstown said she had trouble getting in to join her family's holiday picnic.

"The park was packed so much that I had a 10- or 15-minute wait," she said. "I had to drive up and down."

Whittington said she could understand the abundance of visitors from the Washington area.

"With the gas prices now, they're not going to travel that far just to swim," she said.

The park is especially popular within the Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan communities, said Dora Paz, of Fairfax, Va., who was there with her husband and 1-year-old son, Joel. The brightly colored hammocks that filled the trees around the park's picnic area are common in Salvadoran culture, she said.

Michael Rankin, 23, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said he and his girlfriend chose the park because they wanted somewhere not too far away where they could relax after a full weekend.

"We figured we'd just sit around and not do anything," Rankin said as he lounged by the lake. "This is just kind of a relaxing end to the weekend."

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