YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Standing before an expansive meadow near the confluence of the Gibbon, Firehole and Madison rivers, Vice President Joe Biden spoke Monday about federal stimulus spending on projects aimed at repairing and restoring the country’s national parks.
“For too long, our nation’s crown jewels have been neglected,” Biden told a crowd of about 75 people, mostly Yel-lowstone National Park employees and volunteers, along with about a dozen construction workers.
Biden’s visit to Yellowstone, along with a planned stop on Tuesday at Grand Canyon National Park, is part of what the White House is calling “Recovery Summer,” a series of events aimed at publicizing the benefits of stimulus spending in creating jobs and building public infrastructure.
Yellowstone received more than $12.4 million in stimulus funds for 14 projects, including a $4.7 million wastewater treatment plant being built near Madison.
Biden toured the project before the invitation-only event, held near the base of National Park Mountain in a location that organizers said was chosen to help minimize traffic jams for visitors.
Biden was joined by Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and Ed Venetz, vice president of Dick Anderson Construction. The company has been awarded more than $30 million worth of Recovery Act work, including the Madison wastewater project.
The work isn’t always glamorous, Biden said, but it is important in maintaining and protecting what he called the nation’s “crown jewels.”
Money for national park projects has often been allocated at the end of the federal budget process, after other priorities are more fully funded, Biden said.
“The single greatest jewel we had was always the last item on the agenda,” he said, and repairs were “kicked down the road” to be addressed in future budgets.
Biden’s visit, as well as a visit last year by President Obama, “says a lot about what a draw Yellowstone is, no matter what administration is in place,” Lewis said while visiting West Yellowstone after Biden’s appearance.
Lewis said that the extra stimulus funding “got us a little bit ahead on some projects that otherwise would have stayed in the queue for a while longer” and that the funding was “more than $12 million that we weren’t going to get otherwise.”
Biden told the group that Yellowstone is a place that restores and inspires visitors and that the park’s natural beauty should not be taken for granted.
“It is a literally awe-inspiring thing,” he said.
In the minutes leading up to Biden’s appearance near the Madison Junior Ranger Station, nature took center stage, as a lone moose moved along the far horizon, holding the gaze of some onlookers even after the speeches began.
Traffic on the main road slowed to a crawl, as park visitors took photos of the moose, most of them unaware of Bi-den’s presence about a mile away.
Ken Syndergaard, a carpenter working on the Madison wastewater project, said he appreciated the work, but figured he would probably be working on another project this summer if stimulus funds had not been available in Yellowstone.
“We’ve got — I don’t know how many — yards of concrete getting poured tomorrow that we’re not quite ready for yet, so we should be back at the job site,” Syndergaard said as Biden shook hands and posed for photos after completing his remarks.
Dan Peaslee, Syndergaard’s co-worker from Bozeman, spoke briefly with Biden just before the vice president left.
“I thanked him for the work,” Peaslee said.
“Without this recovery work, there would be a lot more of us in Montana not working,” he said.
In Yellowstone and other parks, the extra money is being used mainly for deferred maintenance and new construction projects. It is part of $862 billion in total stimulus funds being spent.
The spending in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon put more than 1,000 people to work on 17 projects, and 800 na-tional park projects nationwide are being paid for this summer through about $750 million in stimulus funds, according to the White House.