GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Patrick Barker has come the long way around from his hometown of Ravenswood, W.Va. to Glenwood Springs. Since coming here in November 2005, Barker has represented Western Colorado Congress, "a grass-roots community action group" that advocates for social, economic and environmental concerns. He comes here via a circuitous route that has taken him all over the globe.After graduating from Ravenswood High School in 1992 in a class of 130, he went on to West Virginia University where he majored in history and biology. "On a whim," he took the test for law school, passed and was accepted to his alma mater. "It was the best legal education for the buck in West Virginia," he quipped.His interest in history, especially African and Latin American, pointed him toward the foreign relations field. "Then there's the side of me that's very antiestablishment. My dream job was with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) suing police departments," he said.Fresh out of college in 2000, he applied to the Peace Corps and was assigned to Lesotho in southern Africa, a small mountainous country with one of the highest rates of AIDS and HIV in Africa."I always had a fascination with Africa, since the sixth grade. I listened to hip hop and rap" and became aware of African American issues. "I was always the weird kid," he laughed. Lesotho is a country of about 2 million people and is completely surrounded by the nation of South Africa.
Although the grinding poverty of the place got to him at first, "it became my home," he said.As a Peace Corps volunteer he was assigned to bring environmental education into the schools. "I started environmental clubs to instill in them a greater care of the environment for future generations," he said.In a small country where subsistence farming is the rule, overtilling the land has created major problems with erosion."The joke is Lesotho's greatest export is topsoil," he said.Even though he had his share of run-ins with robbers - he was mugged three times - he brought away good memories of the people of Lesotho, their kindness and "the slow pace of life. The people took the time to sit with you and get to know you."After his two-year stint was finished he set off on a bicycle tour of Namibia and South Africa. Still not wanting to re-enter "civilization" in America, he spent a year "skiing volcanoes" in South America.Finally, after about four years abroad, he came back to America and took a temporary job at Sequoia National Park in California. When that ended, "I was looking for a (job in the) nonprofit realm that was socially progressive, and I came across a job posting for Western Colorado Congress, and here I am," he said.Barker works with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a local group formed a few years ago to secure land use rights for people who own only the surface of the land - not the mineral rights - where oil and gas development is taking place in western Garfield County.
His job is to "educate people and get them working together," he said. "People unified will have more power than individual voices."The group's efforts have paid off. "There's been a palpable shift in the process," as the state Air Quality Control Division is now talking about increasing air monitoring on the West Slope and adding more inspectors to its ranks. "That wouldn't have happened if GVCA hadn't raised the issue," he said.Outside work, Barker continues to pursue his love of bicycling. In fact, the many biking opportunities around Glenwood Springs were one of the reasons he took the job here, he said.Best of all, bike-friendly Glenwood allows him to get around town on a bike. "I don't have to get in a car to go anywhere," he said. "I hate cars. I take personal responsibility for my carbon emissions."Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO