rafting pioneer Barker dies at 75

Dick Barker takes a turn on the oars during the 2011 Legends of the Snake float trip in Grand Teton National Park. Click to enlarge.

Dick Barker, the river guide and musician who built one of the most successful rafting businesses in Jackson Hole, died this morning at his home in Moose, after battling cancer for several years. He was 75 years old.

Originally from Ohio, Barker began spending his summers at his grandparents’ house on Ditch Creek as a boy. He learned to fly fish from his mother and stepfather, Joe Beerkle, and started guiding for Carmichael’s Tackle Shop in Moose in 1956.

In 1963, he and his wife, Barb, started their own float trip company, just as Frank and Patty Ewing went into business. The two families became partners in 1965, and Barker-Ewing grew to become synonymous with scenic and whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole.

Even in recent years Barker remained involved in the running of his business; he was the first person to grab the tools when trailer lights broke or something else needed fixing. This is the company’s 50th summer in Grand Teton National Park.

Although he had been undergoing chemotherapy the last two years, Barker’s health took a turn for the worse this spring, after he and Barb returned from a 50th wedding anniversary trip to Ireland. Infection and pneumonia landed him in the hospital. He came home to spend his final days beside Blacktail Butte, surrounded by family, a steady stream of visitors and the river he so loved.

With his passing, we have lost an encyclopedic memory of the history of Snake River rafting and, more broadly, Jackson Hole.

I’ll have more to write about Dick in the coming days later. Until then, the trips must go on, as Dick would have wanted.

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Posted under Deaths, Democratic Party, Sports, Wyoming

10 Comments so far

  1. Boat 1 Retired July 23, 2012 9:55 am

    Huge Bummer. Dick was the best boss I ever had and taught me a ton – not just about floating the Snake – but about life too in the 30+ years that I knew him. He will be sorely missed by friends, family and the river community. God bless and make sure you hug your loved ones a little longer and tighter today.
    Float On,
    Frank Lane
    AKA – “Boat 1 Retired”

  2. js July 23, 2012 2:21 pm

    I should add that tonight’s Hootenanny will be at 7 p.m. in Center for the Arts. A folk guitarist and singer, Dick was one of the organizers of the Hoot and performed regularly until his health deteriorated. Tonight, on the big stage, should be a fitting tribute.

  3. Verne Huser July 23, 2012 2:58 pm

    Having known Dick for 50 years, I can say he was a fine folk musician and a great river guide, interested in protecting all wildlife and the Snake River. He taught Judy Collins to play the guitar. He wrote provocative political songs. He loved life and gave much to the river community and to Jackson Hole. He was a kind, gentle, and generous individual who fought with dignity against the cancer that took his life.

  4. James Peck July 23, 2012 9:04 pm

    Huge loss to the whole community. A legacy worth learning from.

  5. Priscilla Marden July 23, 2012 10:46 pm

    Dick was the best neighbor I ever had. My favorite place I ever lived was next door to the Barkers, and I loved working for them booking float trips. I also loved listening to all his stories and watching the priceless films of the early days here in Jackson. What a treasure trove of history he was. I feel so honored to have been friends with all of the Barkers – truly good folks. I am sad that I will never see Dick again or hear him play his wonderful music. Heaven is a much livelier place, though, for his arrival!

  6. Leith Barker July 24, 2012 7:15 pm

    Beautiful write-up Jim. I honestly don’t know how I am going to survive without him. I miss him so much already! He left some really big shoes for us to try and fill here. Having said that, I really do need to thank you and all the rest of our fabulous crew for picking up the slack of all that we have left dangling this summer. I got to spend a bit more time with him over these last several weeks knowing that you all were keeping the company “flowing” well.

    Dad was simply the most capable person I ever knew. His river skills, his musical talents, his business acumen.. all of these made him the great icon in the valley that he was. His knowledge, his smile, his chuckles, his love… those are just a few of the many things that made him such a great Dad. RIP Dad. I love you and miss you.

  7. Eric Moore July 27, 2012 3:37 pm

    Nice piece Jim. Hope to read your further thoughts. What a huge, huge hole in the Hole.
    Dick gave me the best job I ever WILL have, and the best guitar I’ll ever have. His impact on how and what I do runs very deep. I really, really wanted to play for him again!
    Just read Frank’s very apt, wise advice to hug your little ones a little tighter AS I was sending my little one away for a minute because I just couldn’t keep myself together.

  8. Phil Round July 29, 2012 12:55 am

    What sad news. Dick was a hero to me in many ways and an uncompromising dissident. He could be that and always be agreeable and jolly. What a gift. I’m lucky to have known him.

  9. Alisan Peters August 3, 2012 8:40 am

    Although I only knew Dick for a short time, he was an inspiration to me. I was always impressed by his business savvy, his humility and his downright touching gentleness. My heart goes out to Barb, Leith and the rest of Dick’s family, which is pretty much the whole of the Hole.

  10. Geoff Granfield August 17, 2012 2:07 pm

    He’s such a big loss to the rafting community. We at the pigeon forge white water rafting would like to extend our condolences to his family.

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