Owners of the storied Trout Run property are seeking a county historical designation so they can convert the Thurmont retreat into a substance abuse center affiliated with the Church of Scientology.
The 40-acre camp whose stream was once fished by President Herbert Hoover was sold in 2013 to a Los Angeles-based property holdings group. The property’s new owners are looking to renovate the rustic Catoctin Mountain lodges for the opening of a drug treatment center run by the Narconon program.
The controversial recovery program grew from rehabilitation methods developed by the Church of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Narconon treatments include nutritional supplements, exercise and time spent in saunas. While there are no staff on-site yet, Narconon Eastern U.S. Executive Director Yvonne Rodgers said, they plan to open the “residential drug rehabilitation center” later this year.
But the project’s viability hinges on whether local officials agree to add Trout Run to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places. The request for this historic designation is set to come before the County Council for a public hearing on Tuesday.
Social Betterment Properties International, the current owner of Trout Run and real estate arm of the Church of Scientology, has already started working with the county on renovation plans, said Denis Superczynski, a county principal planner.
The group has submitted plans to convert the retreat into a rehabilitation center that has space for 12 live-in patients — referred to as “students” in the proposal. The center would feature five other beds for medical treatment and withdrawal and would accommodate eight staff living on-site and eight staff living off-site.
Patient programs would last for about six weeks, according to the plans.
The saunas used by Narconon are meant to purge the body of toxins that build up when someone abuses drugs, according to the organization’s website.
“When a person combines proper nutrition with moderate daily exercise and time spent sweating in a sauna, the body begins to flush out these residues, mostly through the sweat,” the site states. “As the residues are eliminated, thinking clears, attitude improves and most people say that their physical cravings are diminished or gone entirely.”
Rodgers said Narconon wants to address the recent growth in the abuse of heroin and other opiates in Frederick County.
“Our goal is to begin to help reduce these figures,” she wrote in an email. “So far we have received a warm reception from those we have spoken to about our plans, as apparently there is a need for more treatment facilities in the area.”
Mountain Manor Treatment Centers, in Emmitsburg, is the only inpatient facility for drug addiction in the county, said Jacque Burrier, co-founder of Project Hope in Thurmont. Burrier started the volunteer-run organization in 2013 to help drug addicts find a path to recovery. She said she’s heard about the plans for the Narconon location.
“I did look into it, just to see if it was something that we would recommend for our patients,” she said.
But based on what she’s seen in her research about their treatment methods, Burrier said she is not likely to refer Project Hope patients there.
The Narconon program has been the target of a variety of lawsuits, including several filed in Oklahoma after three patients’ deaths at a Narconon facility, according to The Oklahoman. Other legal complaints claim the program misrepresents its success rates and serves as a recruiting tool for the Church of Scientology.
Superczynski said Social Betterment Properties has been working for a few years to lay the groundwork for Trout Run’s transformation into a Narconon center.
Zoning restrictions that blanket Trout Run currently make it impossible to open the drug treatment facility at the Catoctin Hollow Road property. However, establishing a group home is permissible if the property is listed on the county’s historic register, Superczynski said.
The Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission has already given its approval for putting Trout Run on the list, Superczynski said. The Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals has also given the all-clear for the treatment center plan provided that property owners secure the historic designation, he added.
County Council members could vote on adding Trout Run to the register after their public hearing on Tuesday, although they could opt to defer the decision if they need more information.
County staff has recommended granting the historic label to the Trout Run site, which was developed in the early 20th century, during a period when President Hoover was seeking a fishing retreat. Hoover’s aide, who bought the property in 1929, even stocked the stream with trout and built a cabin in preparation for the commander in chief’s visits, according to the county’s staff report.
Hoover ended up staying at Trout Run only a handful of times, and the president’s aide eventually sold the property. But D.C.’s rich and powerful, President Dwight D. Eisenhower among them, continued to find refuge at the rustic camp over the decades.
The site also served as a mock Camp David for the television series “The West Wing.”
Today, 14 buildings designed in the rustic style stand in the densely forested camp, crisscrossed by native stone and paved walkways, according to the county’s staff report.
Because property owners will be renovating old structures and not building new ones, the project will not have to come before the Frederick County Planning Commission, Superczynski said. If the historic designation is granted, certain changes would have to pass muster with the county’s preservation commission, he added.
In addition, the facility has not yet secured a state license to provide substance abuse treatment.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that Trout Run’s owners requested licensing information from the state agency about a year ago. However, DHMH hasn’t since heard from the group or received a completed license application, the spokesman indicated.