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Feb 24th
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Home National & State Parks Grand Teton New Grand Teton National Park Visitor Reflects Character of the West

New Grand Teton National Park Visitor Reflects Character of the West

$18.5 Million Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center Offers Expanded Year-Round Services, New Interactive Exhibits

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Grand Teton National Park has a new $18.5 million visitor center, and for the 4 million tourists who come each year to see one of the West's natural wonders it couldn't have come at a better time.

Built in 1961, the original visitor center near the park's headquarters in Moose, Wyoming had been a growing concern for park officials who noted that the building's age, increasing numbers of visitors and infrastructure issues were becoming too serious to ignore anymore.
It took more than 20 years of discussion and planning, but on Aug. 11, 2007, with more than 1,000 persons on hand to watch the dedication ceremony, National Park Service officials, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Vice President Dick Cheney officially opened the new Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center for Grand Teton National Park.

Named after the late Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas who died in 2007 after battling leukemia, the 22,000 sq. ft. facility not only replaces the old visitor center but offers year-round capabilities. The larger facility also provides more space for improved park exhibits and expanded interpretative services.

During the dedication ceremony, Vice President Cheney noted the special place Grand Teton National Park has for people who enjoy the West.

"Today begins another proud chapter for America, and in particular for the American West," he said. "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," he said.

The vice president also honored the late Wyoming Senator Thomas, and talked about why the center was named after him. Thomas not only secured the federal funding for the new visitor facility, he also consistently supported many other critical national park programs and projects across America.

"Craig was the very ideal of a senator from the West," he said. "He grew up close to the land, he loved the outdoors, and he understood life as we live it here. He believed deeply in the Park Service's mission as the guardian of our national treasure and the keeper of our national memory."

Susan Thomas, the late senator's widow, was on hand to receive a ranger flat hat from National Park Service Director Mary Bomas as a token of appreciation on behalf of the NPS.

A Bigger, Better Visitor Center

The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center was built through a partnership project funded by the National Park Service, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, and the Grand Teton Association.

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation provided over $12 million, while the Grand Teton Association contributed $1.5 million to the project, and will continue to provide financial support for the park's interpretive and scientific programs through income generated from their bookstore operations. Senator Thomas secured $8 million in federal appropriations for this project.

An auditorium with a seating capacity of more than 100 visitors is scheduled to be added to the center in 2009.

The center building is unique among National Park Service visitor centers.

The exterior of the building is made of pre-cast concrete and natural cedar siding. A contoured metal roof, designed to mimic the silhouette of the Teton mountain range, completes the overall aesthetic picture.

A dual heating system - including both radiant and forced hot air systems - is fired by propane boilers. The radiant system cycles in a continuous loop and the forced hot air will serve as a supplementary system. During the summer, a closed-loop ground-source heat pump is used to cool the building. During the winter months, an exterior snow melt system keeps walkways and delivery areas free of snow.

The large, 30-foot windows, which afford a spectacular view of the Teton Range, house a double-glazed heat mirror to reflect the sun's rays and reduce afternoon heating. All tiles in the building are derived from recycled glass, and the carpeting is also made from recycled material. An automatic lighting system will conserve energy.

The innovative and interactive exhibits feature four themes that are essential for a deeper understanding and appreciation of Grand Teton National Park and its resources. The themes include: Place, People, Preservation and Mountaineering.

Each display consists of a vertical panel (uplift), a diorama, and a horizontal rail with text, which collectively provide comprehensive information to the visitor. The exhibit space also houses an abundance of artifacts, life-size props, and sculptured replicas of wildlife found in the park.

Information directed specifically at children is provided throughout each theme area and three plasma screens will provide visitors with additional bulletins and information

A unique feature in the display area is the video river: three rectangular, structural-glass video screens (each measuring 4 feet by 15 feet) serve as part of a walkway. While visitors stroll through the exhibits, continuous video footage is projected on the walkway below their feet, giving them a bird's-eye view of park scenery.

The 900 square foot gallery displays art work from the Grand Teton Park collection as well as pieces from the collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Near the information desk, a three-dimensional, raised-relief map serves as a focal point for orientation and interpretive programs. Ranger presentations using the map will be enhanced through a high-tech, pre-programmed laser beam.


Operating Hours

The Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center is open year-round from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., although during peak summer season (June 4 - Sept. 3) it closes at 7:00 p.m. and is located 12 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming.

Visitor services include general information, an extensive bookstore, maps, activity schedules, guided walks and talks, backcountry camping permits, boat permits, restrooms and telephones. For more information call (307) 739-3399.

National & State Parks