- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - For more than a decade, Barbara Walker has been the friendly face of much of the activities for the Eastern Divide Ranger District of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

At the end of April, “Ranger Barb” hung up her hat for the final time and retired from her position as partnership coordinator.

The Eastern Divide Ranger District includes parts of Bland, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Smyth, Tazewell and Wythe counties, as well as Monroe County, West Virginia. Its main office is in Blacksburg.

Acting District Ranger Tom Bailey said that during her time, Walker had been largely responsible for the district’s volunteer programs, including those dedicated to the upkeep of trails and campgrounds, and was a joy with which to work.

“Everybody just loved her. She had the best disposition … She would always keep our office lively and full of spirit,” Bailey said.

Due to department regulations, Bailey served as the lone voice from the Eastern Divide Ranger District.

He said one aspect of Walker’s career she would most be remembered for was her influence on bolstering the children’s nature programs.

Bailey said prior to Walker’s arrival, the educational programs were simply a “sideline” to the other duties within the district.

“When Barb got here she worked directly for the district ranger. They worked together to bring that program to a position where it’s been integrated into the day-to-day business,” Bailey said.

Walker grew up in Charlotte County, Virginia, and began her professional career as a high school teacher before moving to Utah to work in the ski industry. She began to volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service during the summer months in part to better learn the trails in the area.

“I never imagined it would turn into a job or a career,” she wrote to The Roanoke Times.

Walker was offered a job and ended up working for six years as a wilderness ranger in Utah before returning to her home state in 2004 to work in the Eastern Divide Ranger District of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

Walker wrote in an email that she’d most enjoyed that her job had allowed her to be constantly learning new things and work with people off all ages. A wetlands restoration project in Utah’s roadless area, working with the 2002 Olympics, and traveling around Virginia with the Capitol Christmas tree highlighted her memories, she said.

Along with helping develop a variety of children’s programs and working as a team member during wildfires - she most often worked as the department’s media contact during fires - Walker said the creation of the pollinator habitat at Pandapas Pond in Giles County was one of her proudest achievements.

Walker said she plans to spend her retirement traveling, volunteering and gardening, as well as spending more time with family and friends.

Rebecca Robbins will step into Walker’s former role with the district.

Like Walker, Bailey said Robbins comes to the region from Utah, where she spent three years working in outdoor education in Canyonlands National Park.

Bailey said Robbins planned to keep in line with Walker’s emphasis on educational programs, along with the environmental education email list Walker established.

“She hopes to continue Barb’s legacy of monthly lessons for children,” Bailey said.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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