The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
August 11, 2007

Vice President's Remarks at Dedication of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitors Center
Grand Teton National Park
Moose, Wyoming

10:49 A.M. MDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Distinguished guests, friends, and fellow citizens: It's great to be with you on this perfect summer day. I very much appreciate the warm welcome, and bring greetings to all of you from the President. While I'm up here in the Tetons, he'll soon be down enjoying the charms of central Texas in mid-August. (Laughter.) I think I've got the better end of the deal. (Laughter.)

I was remembering this morning that soon after we came into office, the President loaned me a painting of The Three Tetons that's been in the White House collection for a long time and hung in the Oval Office for many years. It's an original work by Thomas Moran, the great artist for whom one of the mountains in the park is named. For nearly seven years it's had a prominent spot on my office wall, as a daily reminder of my favorite place in the entire world. To see this range and valley even once is an experience never to be forgotten. But the chance to return here often, and to encounter these natural wonders in every season, is a joy and a privilege beyond compare.

I'm delighted to participate in this dedication, not just in my capacity as Vice President but as one with the good fortune to call this valley home. On behalf of all of us, I want to welcome our distinguished guests -- especially Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee, and Wyoming's Senator Mike Enzi, our fine Interior Secretary and neighbor from Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne, Park Service Director Mary Bomar. Let me also thank the Grand Teton Park Superintendent, Mary Gibson Scott. She does an outstanding job. And of course all of us are delighted to see Sue Thomas -- Susan Thomas here today, by blessing us with her presence.

Special thanks, as well, to the people of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, who raised a good deal of money for the project from many donors of all ages, the youngest being a six-year-old boy named Luke Hohlt. I also want to thank all the Park Service employees who serve here at Grand Teton. They work very hard and do an outstanding job for all of us.

In Wyoming, we take real pride in being home to America's first national park, in Yellowstone. We're pleased this morning to dedicate the National Park System's newest visitor center. It will surely enhance the experience of visiting the Tetons for a good many years to come. More than that, I believe it'll be a model for future projects, because we have here an example of excellent design and well crafted presentations. It's a credit to the country -- and all the more so because of the fine name that's been placed upon it by an Act of Congress.

I was fortunate indeed to have known Craig Thomas for many years. First he was my constituent, and used to lobby me when I was a Congressman, then my successor in the House of Representatives, and then my comrade on the Senate side. Always and above all, he was a friend. The sudden passing of Senator Thomas left an office interrupted, but it marked, as well, a duty fulfilled and a life very well lived. When illness caught him he fought very hard, as you would expect from an old Marine. He willed himself to carry on, and he stayed at his post until the very end of his strength. This, obviously, was a man of rare commitment and character. We feel his loss acutely, both here at home, as well as in the nation's capital.

Our late senator was universally well regarded. There was nothing of the cynic about him -- nothing world-weary or self-satisfied. People of both parties liked and trusted him because he spoke honestly and plainly, held his ground, and kept his word. You could search Washington, D.C. -- and for that matter, all of Wyoming -- and likely never find someone to say a bad word about Craig Thomas. As our friend Ambassador Tom Stroock said: "If you didn't like Craig, you had a serious psychological problem." (Laughter.)

Craig was also the very ideal of a senator from the West. He grew up close to the land, he loved the outdoors, and he understood life as we live it here. He had a practical, reasoning mind. He had a perfect instinct for fairness. And all this, taken together, made him a superior voice on Western issues. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Parks, and later as its ranking member, he was a true friend to the national park system. He believed deeply in the Park Service's mission as the guardian of our national treasure and the keeper of our national memory.

Senator Thomas was a strong supporter of President Bush's Parks Centennial Initiative, as Secretary Kempthorne has noted. Craig shared with the President a belief that stewardship of the parks should engage not just the government, but the private sector and the individual citizen. And the history of this very park is the best evidence as to why that is the case. We wouldn't have this broad stretch of 310,000 acres, as we do today, had it not been for a series of affirmative steps, over many years, by the government, by the private sector, by volunteers, by philanthropists like John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his son, Laurance.

Six years ago I had the honor of accepting Laurance Rockefeller's gift to the country of the JY Ranch -- a tremendous addition to this park, which will be a major attraction for generations to come. The President's Centennial Initiative will encourage more acts of philanthropic support throughout the national park system. At the same time, it will add resources that are clearly needed to place the system on course for another century of conservation, preservation, and enjoyment. We hope Congress will soon pass the President's initiative into law. It's a project worthy of a country that leads the world in our regard for the environment, and in the care we extend to the wonders of nature.

Today begins another proud chapter for America, and in particular for the American West. As a people with a frontier heritage, Americans have always seen the West as a young man's country -- where ambition is welcome; where hard work is rewarded; where the possibilities are endless, and the world is still in the making.

All of that rings true, and that is the character of the West. Yet there is another tradition found here -- a tradition of respect for creation, and humility before the Creator. We know and we appreciate natural beauty. We stand before it with awe. And we hear the call of stewardship for the land and life around us, just as our grandparents did. Those earlier generations carefully tended to our landmarks, and vistas, and habitats. Gathered in this incredible corner of the world, we cannot help but feel grateful for their foresight and good sense. And we want our grandchildren to feel that way about us.

For the time given to us, the citizens of today hold the national parks in trust. Their long-term condition, and the ability of future generations to enjoy them as we do, will depend largely on decisions we make in our own time. This new facility shows that we take that responsibility very seriously. It's a symbol of our commitment to thinking ahead, keeping right priorities, and choosing wisely. Today we can say with confidence that we've done something good for our country.

And so I'm honored to join in this official opening of the "Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center" at Grand Teton National Park. I dedicate it to the good of this park, to the service of our nation, and to the memory of a fine man.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END 10:58 A.M. MDT

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