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Photography, writing click for former county educator

April 04, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN

Joe Byers is planning a 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, fishing and photography that have stayed with him through his life.

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

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

Byers recently 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.

The contest previously was in two categories, with published photography and published writing components, Byers said. Last year, he took first place in that same contest.

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

He graduated from Frostburg State University and the University of Maryland.

"I started writing when I was principal of Funkstown Elementary School," Byers said. He later added his photography skills and began submitting his work to publications, 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.

His office wall shows evidence of some of his awards. A plaque that just arrived notified Byers that he won the 2005 Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association Pass It On award sponsored by Bass Pro Shops.

Other awards have come from the National Bowhunters Education Foundation and its 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 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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