DONNELLY, Idaho – The helicopter carrying George W. Bush touched down Monday on a brand-new bright green golf course at Tamarack Resort as the president began a two-day Idaho vacation. A small group of onlookers waved flags and cheered, but the town’s local dignitary was not among the welcoming committee.
“We’ve got people who actually are planning to move because of what’s happening here,” said Donnelly Mayor George Dorris. “The president coming here – now the guy who works as a burger flipper in Denver and who never had any desire to come up here is going to want to see what brought the president here.”
The arrival of the presidential entourage in the community that Idaho guidebook author Cort Conley once described as “quiet as a wooden Indian” was a watershed event for the local tourism industry.
But it’s one that Dorris and some other longtime residents say they saw coming when the tony resort opened last December and began running national ads touting the recreational and real estate opportunities in the town of 132 peo-ple.
“We’re used to peace and quiet, and this will just ruin it,” said Nancy Lowman. She and her husband, Larry, serve as hosts of the Poison Creek Campground in front of the resort on the shore of Lake Cascade. “It’s nice he’s come to visit, but for a lot of us, it’s still sad.”
The president and his wife, Laura, touched down on the resort’s golf course aboard the presidential helicopter Marine One at 2:10 p.m., joined by Idaho Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and his wife, Patricia.
Kempthorne, a vocal booster of Tamarack, received a $2,500 donation from the resort’s developers to help retire his 2002 campaign debt. He also owns property in the project.
Developers have spent an estimated $200 million on the resort and expect the final cost will be $1.5 billion when the 2,000 homes, condominiums, golf course, ski area and marina are complete.
“That resort has just made real estate crazy here,” said Barb Johnson, a retired Boise schoolteacher who has owned a home across the lake from Tamarack since 1972. “It’s changed things very quickly, but at the same time, you have to say: ‘How often does the president drop into your back yard?’ “
Bush is expected to go mountain biking at the resort – which is closed to the public during his visit – and entertain members of Idaho’s congressional delegation at a private dinner before returning to the Boise area on Wednesday to give a speech to members of the military and their families about the war on terror.
The president’s first visit to Idaho since his 2000 election began when Air Force One landed at Gowen Field at the Boise airport after Bush had spoken to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City.
Kempthorne was Bush’s guest at the Utah appearance and flew with the president to Idaho.
“They must have changed the immigration laws here in Utah because they allowed the Idaho governor to come across the border,” Bush joked during his Salt Lake City appearance.
He made no public remarks Monday in Idaho, waving to a small group of onlookers as he and the first lady stepped off Air Force One and quickly transferred with the Kempthornes to the helicopter.
Thousands of protesters of the Iraq war rallied against Bush in Utah. In Donnelly, activists planned a small peace vigil in support of Cindy Sheehan, the mother who has sought to meet with the president in Texas to discuss her son’s death in Iraq. Tonight, an anti-war rally is planned by the Idaho Peace Coalition near the Idaho Capitol.
About 30 people stood on picnic tables, clapped and waved American flags Monday afternoon in the Poison Creek Campground as the four military helicopters carrying Bush, his staff and the traveling White House press corps thundered over Lake Cascade to a special landing zone created on the yet-to-be-opened fairways at Tamarack.
Lisa Berry wept while hugging her three young daughters as the entourage landed.
“We wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said after driving from Eagle, a Boise suburb about 90 miles away, to witness the president’s arrival. “He’s the leader of our country.”
Said Delpha Bush of Boise: “No matter what your political stripes are, I just really love my country, and he’s the president.”
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