Nature Camp is pleased to announce its new residential caretaker, Gary Barker. Gary arrived in October 2013 from North Dakota and quickly got to work settling in and getting the facilities ready for the winter. His interesting and diverse background includes log building restoration and stone masonry, nature photography, historical interpretation, and ten years as caretaker for a summer camp in Minnesota. For more of his personal story, Gary provides this autobiographical sketch:
“After spending a decade as site manager/caretaker for a YMCA camp in Northern Minnesota, I told myself I could see myself doing that again someday. It was a good fit for me. When I saw the advertisement that Nature Camp had posted in the Caretaker Gazette for Caretaker, I did some exploring to learn what Nature Camp was all about. The mission of Nature Camp was similar to a personal mission I’ve had for many years. My ways of teaching and inspiring others to care about the environment were through visual arts and writing a nature column for several years. I also had been involved with other environmental organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the BWCA and The International Wolf Center. The possibility of being a caretaker for a camp that taught young people how to be good stewards of our environment was exciting to me, so I applied.
“Luckily, Nature Camp picked me to fill the role as Sentinel. When I first moved here, I needed to get back into the proper mindset and attitude of an environmentalist, and also I needed to learn how things were done at Nature Camp. I’d spent a couple of years on the Northern Plains of ND, and my tree hugger ways had slackened a little. When I first arrived here, I had the fortune to immediately meet Amy Beaird. She helped get me settled into the ways of Nature Camp, showed me much about the area and guided me back into the proper habits of a person that cares for this little planet of ours. For helping me get off to a good start, I’m forever grateful to her.
“Before I met many of the Nature Camp family, I saw the movie Never Cry Wolf sitting on a shelf in the office. One of my favorite movies of all time I found out was also a popular movie at Nature Camp. I knew then I was in good company here.
“Never Cry Wolf came out back in the 80s when my wilderness was the mountains of Eastern West Virginia. Back then, Wild America’s Marty Stouffer also inspired me and it wasn’t long that, like Charles Martin Smith riding the train north in Never Cry Wolf, I headed north listening to Johnnie Horton songs and reading Robert Service poems. My goal was to film wolves and other wildlife, and also be a nature writer. I lived in Minnesota for 17 of those 20 years, and lived 3 years in ND. I spent a fair amount of time in the Northern Rockies filming wildlife, and also some time in the Black Hills filming. I have lots of nature stories to tell.
“Thanks to my high school history teacher, my interest in history has grown along with my love of nature. For a time I interpreted the Lewis and Clark expedition at Fort Mandan in ND. I learned in my research of the strong Virginia connection. I also work with wood – often times using traditional hand tools. Hardly a day goes by when I’m not sweeping up a pile of wood shavings, wood chips or sawdust. I enjoy demonstrating the use of these old time tools and also some survival skills like fire starting. I’m a patient person, so I’m always willing to teach about these subjects, and I have taught people of all ages.
“The mountains and language of Virginia are like old friends. When I saw the name Coffey here in Rockbridge County, I began feeling at home (my mother’s side of the family are Coffeys). I’m originally from Logan, West Virginia. After a trip to West Virginia, visiting relatives I hadn’t seen in years, I began feeling like the time had come to return to my family roots. Becoming a part of Nature Camp has allowed that to happen, and I appreciate it.
“I’ve quickly discovered similarities between the Minnesota camp where I held the role of caretaker and here at Nature Camp, though a couple are outstanding. One is the support that I’m getting and another is the feeling of being a part of a family. Thanks for the support and welcoming me in. I look forward to getting to know the Nature Camp family, to exchanging stories and finally to playing a part in the continued success and prosperity of Nature Camp.”