The Trump family has offended many sectors of establishment Washington since their arrival in the nation’s capital, from Langley’s spymasters to mansion-dwellers in D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood.
But 30 miles north of the White House, a conflict is now brewing on the banks of the Potomac River that pits the president’s interests against those of a very different — if no less zealous — constituency. This one is armed with paddles.
Citing security concerns, the U.S. Coast Guard says it is adopting a policy of periodically cutting off access to roughly two miles of the Potomac where it borders Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
The restrictions would clear the water of canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, sailboats, jet-skis, motorboats and anglers when Trump or other senior officials of his government decide to spend a day on the back nine.
The buffer zone is stoking intense concern and opposition among recreational users of the river, who range from Olympic athletes to injured soldiers. The proposed shore-to-shore security area includes Riley’s Lock, the embarkation point for a popular summer camp and a kayaking program for wounded and disabled veterans.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” said John Deitle, 41, a former marine who served a combined five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and receives treatment at Walter Reed for lung problems he says are related to chemical exposure.
Deitle paddles on this stretch of the Potomac with Team River Runner, a nonprofit that caters to wounded vets. On Sunday afternoon, he stood in a life vest at his put-in point on Seneca Creek, a faded Teufel Hunden tattoo showing on one of his bare upper arms.
“Granted, it’s his golf course,” Deitle said. “But he has other golf courses.”
Battles over the presidential prerogative to make life inconvenient are a perennial drama in and around Washington. Former President Bill Clinton caused an uproar among crosstown commuters when, bowing to the wishes of the U.S. Secret Service, he closed Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to auto traffic in 1995.
But such complaints have taken on a special resonance in the Trump era, perhaps because Maryland, Virginia and D.C. voted overwhelmingly against the historically unpopular president, who brands himself as a brash interloper among Washington’s swells. In March, the Secret Service’s liberal blocking of precious parking space near the home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner stirred a revolt among their neighbors in Kalorama. In April, the Secret Service barred pedestrians from the sidewalk along the White House’s southern fence-line.
The sweeping new security measures proposed near Trump National seem to have come as a particular blow to the tightly knit clan of paddlers on this half-mile-wide section of the Potomac, which courses slowly past shores shaded by sycamore and black walnut before dissolving into light rapids.
“It’s a sharing culture out here, and it feels strange to have somebody not sharing,” said Ashley Nee, a kayaker who competed for Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and is currently training for 2020 on the affected stretch of river.