Vice President Joe Biden brought his daughter to the Grand Canyon for her first visit Tuesday, touting its awe-inspiring beauty and the work being done to preserve it for future generations.
Biden stood at Hopi Point, on the west end of the South Rim that overlooks a 5,000-foot drop to the Colorado River, as he outlined stimulus-funded projects that include rehabilitating historic trails and structures. Some $750 million in stimulus money has gone to about 800 national park projects that helped create jobs in tough times, he said.
The world is blessed to have reserves of beauty, history and culture like the Grand Canyon, but the national parks have been neglected for too long, he said.
“Today, through the Recovery Act, we’re polishing these national jewels,” he said.
Biden began a two-day tour of national parks Monday at Yellowstone to highlight Recovery Act projects. He spoke to about 60 Grand Canyon employees and local officials a day later.
Grand Canyon National Park has received about $18 million in stimulus funds for 15 projects. Biden highlighted a project that will upgrade housing for members of an Arizona tribe who historically moved from below the canyon to the rim in a seasonal living pattern.
In the 1930s, the National Park Service relocated tribal members from Grand Canyon Village and Indian Gardens — about 4½ miles down a popular trail on the South Rim — to make way for trails and a ranger station. The Park Service built a handful of small cabins for the Havasupais so they could continue their living pattern.
More than $1 million in stimulus money is allocated for construction, repair and rehabilitation of housing there. Those who live at Supai Camp share community laundry and restroom facilities. The stimulus funding has allowed for each of the five cabins to be fitted with plumbing and kitchens and three new duplexes to be built.
Roger Geiger, a contractor on the project, said the benefit of stimulus funds in this case not only provides work for his employees and income for his family but also preserves a part of the country’s rich history with the Havasupai.
The Grand Canyon has a backlog of projects estimated at $300 million, park Superintendent Steve Martin said.
“This is a really good start,” Martin said. “It was interesting both listening to the vice president and getting the chance to talk to him. He really appreciates parks and our public lands. I think we all felt it well beyond a political message.”
Other stimulus-funded projects at the park aim to make employee housing more energy efficient, preserve roads, lessen emissions with new shuttle buses, provide housing for seasonal employees and upgrade the historic Grand Canyon depot.
“It ties in a lot of the facets of what national parks do,” Martin said.
The Republican National Committee criticized Biden’s speech even before he delivered it as “long-winded” and said he could not hide the fact that tens of thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs since the Recovery Act was signed into law.
“Arizonans will soon have the opportunity to reject this administration’s failed economic policies and elect leaders who are focused on creating jobs,” said Jahan Wilcox, an RNC spokeswoman.
Biden visited the Grand Canyon once before on a 10-day rafting trip with his brothers, he said. But it was a first for his daughter, Ashley, who walked hand in hand with her father along the canyon rim and snapped photos.
“This is among God’s most wondrous works in all the Earth,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this gift to humanity, giving it to Ashley for so long.”
He then turned to her and asked, “Did I exaggerate?”
Biden had lunch at the South Rim and briefly toured the canyon for about an hour after delivering his remarks. President Barack Obama visited the Grand Canyon last summer during a family vacation.