WOODSTOCK, Vt. (AP) – President Bush may miss out on Vermont, but his wife won’t.

First Lady Laura Bush – whose spouse has visited every state beside Vermont during his tenure – made an appearance Monday at a national park here, helping to announce a $50,000 trails grant and visiting with children planting ferns along a carriage trail.

Mrs. Bush, an avid hiker who chairs the private fundraising National Park Foundation, visited the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, where she planned to hike trails with old friends from Midland, Texas, before continuing on to Acadia National Park in Maine on Tuesday for more of the same.

On Monday, she watched young campers engaged in plantings aimed at helping keep invasive plant species out of the park, chatting with a couple before speaking at an invitation-only event. She took no questions – about her husband or otherwise – in the carefully controlled event, which was attended by about 100 people and held in a new Forest Center on the grounds.

Vermont is the only state in the country that President Bush hasn’t visited during his more than seven years in office.

Monday’s visit was Mrs. Bush’s second to Vermont; she visited two years ago when she campaigned for U.S. House candidate Martha Rainville.

The political climate has chilled since then. In March, two Vermont towns passed Town Meeting Day measures calling for the indictment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for constitutional violations.

But Mrs. Bush got a warm welcome Monday, after spending the night in a cottage on the grounds.

She was introduced by Rachel Allen, 14, of Pomfret, a participant in the park’s Mountains and Rivers Forever Summer Camp. Allen, who is going into the ninth grade, said she had developed an appreciation for nature and conservation in helping the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps maintain trails.

“It was a really great experience, from exploring off trail to splashing around in streams,” said Allen, one of 10 youngsters who participated in the fern-planting exercise and had their photos taken with Mrs. Bush afterward.

Mrs. Bush said she began hiking national parks with her friends after rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and hiking out to mark their 40th birthday.

Since then – she wouldn’t say how long ago that was – they have hiked Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, Denali and Olympic national parks.

“We hike together every summer. And Rachel, we like to do just what you like to do. We like to splash through streams and get up in the middle of the night and look at stars when we’re in great big a national park and it’s really dark and you can see great stars at night,” she said.

This is the first year they’ve hiked in the East.

She said the mountains of the East may not be as tall, but that the scenery is just as beautiful.

“Actually, as we’ve gotten older, these smaller mountains are more appropriate for our hiking,” she said.


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