Biden visits Yellowstone
SEAN SPERRY/CHRONICLE Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Yellowstone National Park with Susan Lewis Yellowstone superintendent, left, John Jarvis director of the National Park Service and Ed Venetz vice president of Montana based Anderson Construction Monday.

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - In 1974, the first time Vice President Joe Biden visited Yellowstone National Park, he was a single father in his 30s still suffering the heartbreak of having lost his wife and 1-year-old daughter in a car accident two years before.

With his two young sons, Biden, then the junior senator from Delaware, rented a camper in Salt Lake City and drove north to spend a week in the country's first national park, Biden told a group of about 100 park employees, contractors and their families at the Madison Junior Ranger Station. Partly inspired by his sons' love of the Yogi Bear cartoon, Biden said he had hoped the trip would help the family heal.

And it did, he said.

"This gave nourishment to the body and soul," he said. "I can't even explain it. But it was real."

Biden returned to the park Monday, this time with 16-year-old granddaughter Naomi, as part of a two-day tour touting the nearly $25 million in stimulus money spent on projects in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Park.

There are 800 stimulus-funded projects under way in the country's national parks in what the White House has dubbed the "Summer of Recovery." In total, $750 million of the $862 billion stimulus package was allocated to the National Park Service for "shovel-ready" projects, those that would repair or construct needed infrastructure and create jobs.

"For too long, our national jewels have been neglected," Biden said. "If we were booming, things in the park still needed to be done. We're beginning to polish, once again, these national jewels."

Earlier in the day, Biden toured the site of the new Madison wastewater treatment plant with Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. The $4.7 million replacement will double the capacity of the more than 50-year old facility and operate more efficiently, said Zach Jerla, project manager.

Though he admitted it wasn't the most "glamorous" of projects, Biden said the new system was a good example of the kind of construction stimulus money was budgeted for.

"It's all about being able to use this beauty without marring this beauty," he said.

According to Bill Emerson, superintendent of Dick Anderson Construction-the Montana firm contracted to replace the wastewater treatment facility-the approximately two-year project will employ 25 to 30 workers from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Work began at the end of April.

There are 14 stimulus-funded projects worth approximately $12 million either in the works or completed in Yellowstone, according to the Department of the Interior's Recovery Investments website. They include: resurfacing the south entrance road; demolition and replacement of substandard trailers used for park service employee housing; and installation of a hydroelectric generator near Mammoth Hot Springs.

After his speech, Biden posed for photos with the employees and their families. Ruth MacDonald even got a hug and a kiss on the cheek from the vice president, after making him laugh.

"I told him, 'I think I'm the oldest thing here, except for maybe the park,'" said the 83-year-old Livingston resident, who was there with her husband Alfred Albert.

According to the MacDonalds, Biden apologized for not asking Al's permission before the spontaneous burst of affection toward his wife.

"After 64 years (of marriage to Ruth), I guess he should have," Al joked.

Biden said he and Naomi planned to explore the park Monday before heading to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday. The two spent the weekend golfing, hiking in Beehive Basin and rafting the Gallatin River, he said.

Lauren Russell can be reached at lrussell@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.

Editor's Note: This story was changed on July 28, 2010, to correct the spelling of Alfred MacDonald's name.

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