HANCOCK, Md. — "No trespassing," reads a sign at the gated entrance to a winding, mile-long gravel road in the mountains west of Hancock. "Not open for public use."
But Saturday, park rangers opened not only the gate, but the doors of the majestic 1930s-era Woodmont Lodge at the end of the road for a twice-yearly open house.
The lodge, part of Fort Frederick State Park, has a storied history as part of the Woodmont Rod & Gun Club, founded in 1870 as a fishing and hunting club for "men of prominence." Called "America's First Presidential Retreat," its guests have included seven U.S. presidents.
Today, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources owns the grounds, but the property is managed by the Woodmont Chapter, which, in return, has the rights to the lodge and, from April to October, to 1,400 acres of its grounds, park ranger Andrew Vecchio said.
The other 2,000 acres are open to the public year-round, Vecchio said.
Corporate executives from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area make up many of the current users of the lodge and restricted grounds, General Manager Mike Worden said.
More than 150 people visited the lodge during Saturday's open house — one of the two days each year that it is open to the public.
Gazing around the dozens of mounted animal heads and rich, dark-wood furniture in the lodge's great room, Debbie Nielsen and Mike Verdi of Martinsburg, W.Va., said they had been eager to attend the open house after being unable to tour the lodge during an "owl prowl" nature walk at Fort Frederick State Park.
"You could see the outside, but you couldn't get in," Verdi said.
Other open-house guests were drawn by a more personal connection with the lodge.
On the front porch, Patricia "Tish" Booth Borchardt, 60, of Delaware, pointed to photos of her grandparents in a book titled "The Woodmont Story" by Henry Bridges.
Borchardt said her grandfather and great-grandfather had been mangers of the lodge, and as a teenager, she worked in the kitchen and helped serve food there.
In one photo, her grandfather poses with game that Borchardt said was sent to the White House for the 1935 Christmas dinner.
Some things, such as the now-modernized kitchen, have changed a great deal since the days when she and her grandmother baked in a wood-burning stove, Borchardt said. She had not been to the lodge in about 45 years, she said.
"It's smaller than I remembered, but of course, I was smaller then, too," she said. "But it's still just an impressive place."