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Visitors flock to D.C. for inauguration weekend

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Photo - Two days before President Obama's second inauguration, a workman snaps a souvenir photo amid thousands of folding chairs on the West Lawn on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, where thousands of folding chairs await the festivities for the 57th Presidential Inauguration and the start of President Barack Obama's second term.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Two days before President Obama's second inauguration, a workman snaps a souvenir photo amid thousands of folding chairs on the West Lawn on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, where thousands of folding chairs await the festivities for the 57th Presidential Inauguration and the start of President Barack Obama's second term. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Local,DC,Maryland,Matt Connolly,Inauguration

President Obama's second inauguration may not as big as his first, but visitors are still piling into the District in anticipation of the festivities.

"I used all my airline miles to come," said Verner Wilson, who logged 12 hours of flight time from Anchorage, Alaska. "I convinced my boss to let me work out of here for the week."

Wilson, a member of the Curyung tribe, also came to D.C. for Obama's first inauguration. He cited the president's fishery protection and support for Native American rights as the driving forces behind his desire to make the trip.

"He's always been good on Native American issues too, making sure he hears from tribes," Wilson said. "A lot of our leaders come to D.C. for his tribal summit every year."

Wilson is one of an expected 500,000 to 700,000 people who will crowd the National Mall and Capital grounds to watch Obama take the oath of office for the last time. That's well down from the 1.8 million that officials estimated four years ago. But it'll still be crowded enough to challenge the patience of locals and tourists alike.

"I usually like to visit the museums, but probably not this time," said Kristie Jenkins, who came in from Ocala, Fla. "It'll be jam-packed I'm sure."

Jenkins said it's worth braving the crowds to take part in the weekend's festivities. "I figure I'll never get the chance again," she said. "It's a part of history."

Service organizations are looking to ensure that some visitors will look past the many balls and galas for more civic-minded events across the region. Saturday marked the president's National Day of Service, with charity and philanthropy events taking place every day this week.

Officials for the inaugural blood drive Tuesday at MedStar Washington Hospital Center are hoping thinner crowds don't mean fewer people motivated to give blood.

"We participated four years ago and had a great donor response then," organizer Marianne McGucken said. "There's always a need for blood donors, especially in January. People don't tend to donate often during the holidays."

While he said he'll always remember the massive crowds in 2009, Wilson said he hopes his second go-round will be just as special as the first.

"It won't be as big as the first one, but I still feel it's worth it," Wilson said. "I mean, I did come all the way from Alaska again."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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