Just Folks

He's passing along his love of nature

He's passing along his love of nature

March 31, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Joe Byers is planning a very special road trip this summer to Alaska with his stepgrandson - a journey steeped in memories for the retired Washington County educator.

"In 1963, my grandfather took me to Alaska," Byers said, describing the four-month odyssey as his boy-to-man summer. "We drove up and back in a very small camper."

Along the way, Byers, 59, and his grandfather saw and captured many wonders of nature on film, awakening in the teen a love of nature, hunting and fishing, and photography that have stayed with him through his life.

In 1989, Byers took his daughter on the same trip when she turned 16.

Still traveling and photographing frequently, Byers has also honed his writing skills which he says he learned from local wildlife chronicler Bill Anderson, parlaying the two skills into a contest-winning tradition.


Just recently, Byers took third place in a national photography competition sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation entitled Step Outside. "This was a new contest," Byers said from the office of his Hagerstown home.

Previously the contest had been in two categories, with published photography and published writing components, Byers said. Last year he took first place in that same contest.

Longtime educator

Retiring as principal of Pangborn Elementary School five years ago, Byers spent 32 years as an educator. Born and raised in Washington County, he grew up west of Hagerstown and graduated from Williamsport High School.

Later he graduated from Frostburg State University and the University of Maryland.

"I started writing when I was principal of Funkstown Elementary School," Byers said. Later he added his photography skills and began submitting his work to publications, both separately and as a package.

Since he was a young man, Byers said he has been reading publications like Safari, Heartland USA, and Free Hunting, so his first efforts were sent to them for publication.

Numerous awards

His office wall shows evidence of some of his awards. Indeed, a plaque had just arrived notifying Byers he'd won the 2005 Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association Pass It On award sponsored by the Bass Pro Shops.

Other awards have come from the National Bowhunters Education Foundation and their magazine, "Bowhunting World."

In 2001, Byers took first place in the National Shooting Sports Foundation with an interview of a close friend of the late Dale Earnhardt on what hunting had meant to the racing legend.

"I make a living at it now, writing and taking photographs," Byers said. "One year, I made as much as I did as a school principal."

With 12 trips to Africa under his belt, Byers said he doesn't mind traveling. Even the time spent waiting in airports or sitting on airplanes is put to good use with Byers' laptop computer, which accompanies him everywhere.

"I just focus on where I am going," he said.

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