Tranquility may be found when visiting Cheat Lake Park & Trail

As a photographer in the Cheat Lake area of Morgantown, W.Va., I’m always thinking about where it is that the day’s creative exercise-excursion should be.

I had been to Cheat Lake Park a couple of times before, and had hiked both ways (left and right when coming down the hill from the parking lot, which is off Morgans Run Road). There are 4.5 miles of trails, and they are perfect for biking, running and walking. I’ll look forward to the former when I purchase a bike.

It was a cool, overcast June day on my third visit, and I brought my Nikon 810 to do some landscape and nature photography. When I run, I take my iPhone. When I hike or walk, usually I take both.

Cheat Lake Park_5808

Along a body of water that is the Cheat River, Cheat Lake and Lake Lynn (the latter in Pennsylvania) depending on your GPS, a history that includes George Washington’s surveying efforts in 1784, and a nature viewing area at the southern end of the trail  make trekking the path worthwhile.

One of the markers near the park’s playground tells of the railroad, that:

in 1912, the Cheat Haven and Bruceton Railroad was constructed along the Cheat River as a short connector line between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Cheat Haven, Pennsylvania and the Kendall Lumber Company operations near Ice’s Ferry, West Virginia. Rubble fill was used to construct elevated causeways to cross Rubles Run Bay, Morgan Run Bay, and Manning Run. This standard gauge railroad used Shays and Heisler locomotives to transport lumber from nearby logging operations to the saw mills. In 1919, this railroad line was extended up the Cheat River to transport coal brought over the river by an aerial cable car from the Canyon Coal and Coke Company. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad later took over the Cheat Haven and Bruceton Railroad as part of its system. Today, the Cheat Lake Trail follows the former right-of-way of these rail lines.

There is also a history of milling along the river, and the park has a millstone sanctuary that is interesting to check out.

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The correlating marker tells us that:

In 1773, Samuel Ruble constructed the first grist mill in Cheat Neck. By the mid-19th century, numerous river mills were situated along the Cheat River and used primarily for the production of flour and lumber. Both tub mills and overshot mills, which used the river’s flow to turn water wheels, were once located in the Cheat Neck area.

Millstones were used in pairs and included a turning runner stone situated above a stationary base stone. In this region, millstones were generally constructed of local Pottsville conglomerate and used to grind grain or pulpwood. The deep grooves in some of the millstones provided a cutting edge that channeled flour or pulp to the outside of the millstone for collection. It is thought the millstones were originally from nearby West Virginia quarries and designed to grind pulp into newsprint at mills throughout the region. Defects in the millstones resulted in their use as bank stabilization material and fill for the railroad prior to rising water levels associated with the construction of the Lake Lynn Hydroelectric Station in 1926.

As I was photographing a wildflower against the backdrop of one of the coves, and later a ripple effect through some trees, it was apparent that God’s design of my surroundings had reached a tranquil plateau. I’m sure that the fisherman and the couple taking a walk — other witnesses to the peacefulness of the time and place — probably would agree.

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Photos and story by Mark A. Shephard


Five things I’ve learned being a wedding photographer

Wedding photographers take on an enormous responsibility when they sign a contract with an engaged couple.

Memories are precious, and as one of the providers of those recollections, the wedding photographer must ensure that many things happen before, during and after a couples’ wedding day.

I started photographing weddings in 2000, sometimes with the assistance of my wife, Jennifer, who is also a photographer, but predominantly on my own. Since we photographed a family friend’s classy wedding day in Indianapolis together, I have photographed about 100 weddings.

So, with that in mind, here is what I’ve learned since that beautiful day in 2000.

  1. A photographer can never be prepared enough. From the time of the first meeting with potential clients, to the post-processing of the digital files, it is imperative to know what your clients want, both in terms of shooting style and final products. It is also a must for a photographer to double-check equipment, and make sure everything is accounted for and working properly prior to the big day. The wedding day should flow exactly as the couple has planned it, and that means that a wedding photographer (or photographers) must make that happen. The style of the wedding photographs (classic, artistic, lifestyle, dramatic, documentary) should be talked about with couples, and realized during visualization and post-processing.West Virginia wedding photography - Allysan and Alex
  2. Make sure that your clients understand what they are purchasing, and that you, as a wedding photographer, understand the value of the work that you put into a job. I’ve photographed four-hour wedding days, and I’ve photographed 10-11 hour wedding days. The longer the day is, the more images there will be, and thus, the more post-processing there will be. There are endless options as to how wedding photos can be presented as a package or product. A couple may be content with a 4″x6″ slip-in album, they may not be interested in an album at all (as it is a digital and social media world in which we live), or they may want a custom wedding photo album.West Virginia wedding photography - Allysan and Alex
  3. Wedding memories should grow with time, so a photographer should stay in touch with his clients, as there is nothing better than a good rapport. Many things get better with time, and so over the years I’ve revisited clients’ digital negatives, and have applied new acquired knowledge and actions, so as to create completely new and/or remastered images. You can make your clients very happy when you post special memories on Facebook.West Virginia wedding photography - Allysan and Alex
  4. Word of mouth is a great way to gain more clients. In this age of Google, SEM, and SEO, wedding photographers must prove themselves as being at the top of their craft. When couples and their families are happy with their wedding photos, and they start spreading the good word, wedding photographers must know how to use that to their advantage, and that means branding themselves in that good light on social media and the internet.West Virginia wedding photography - Allysan and Alex
  5. Being a wedding photographer can give you sore feet. Make sure that you are very comfortable in your shoes, both literally and figuratively.

Haverford College students volunteer at High Rocks Academy in Appalachia

Haverford College students volunteer as friends, and some work as interns at High Rocks Academy in Hillsboro, West Virginia, a free, nonprofit summer camp that supports young girls in Appalachia, which is pleased to have their friendship.

I headed to Hillsboro from Morgantown on a beautiful October day to photograph the students lending a helping hand. Painting and renovating a house that will be a temporary home in the near future for young people such as the Haverford volunteers, was the mission of the week.

Working together has always been a great way to get to know each other, and on Thursday the 19th many stories were shared. And with Haverford students coming to Hillsboro from places and countries as diverse as Uganda, Puerto Rico, Columbia and others, those stories held the attention of listeners.

“Haverford College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college located in Haverford, Pennsylvania – a suburb of Philadelphia. All students of the College are undergraduates, and nearly all reside on campus,” according to Wikipedia.

“The college was founded in 1833 by area members of the Orthodox Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to ensure an education grounded in Quaker values for young Quaker men. Although the college no longer has a formal religious affiliation, Quaker philosophy still influences campus life.”

“Originally an all-male institution, Haverford began admitting female transfer students in the 1970s and became fully co-educational in 1980. Currently, more than half of Haverford’s students are women. For most of the 20th century, Haverford’s total enrollment was kept below 300, but the school went through two periods of expansion during and after the 1970s, and its current enrollment is 1,290 students.”

It was a good day on this good earth, and how appropriate that Pearl S. Buck, the author of the classic novel, The Good Earth, was born just down the road.

As lunchtime arrived, Valentina, one of the students was presented with two apple pies, which Liz, a High Rocks staffer, had baked the night before. The pies were divvied up and enjoyed after all those present sang Valentina an a cappella version of happy birthday.

Thanks to the student volunteers of Haverford College, a house in Hillsboro will celebrate another birthday someday soon — looking and feeling much more like a home where good hearts will come together on a regular basis.

Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia has much to offer culturally and historically

The middle of September proved to be a great time to head east for a visit to some historically important towns in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, and just north across the Potomac River in Maryland.

My wife Jennifer and I hopped on I-68 and exited on US-522 to Berkeley Springs, where we turned east again on the scenic WV-9, and headed to our first destination, Martinsburg, W.Va., as the Martinsburg Roundhouse Center,  a historic industrial district, beckoned because of its Civil War railroad history.

The Center includes 13 acres with three B&O Railroad shop buildings. The main attraction is the completely enclosed 1866 cast iron frame roundhouse, yet other buildings will be developed as funds become available. The Mission of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority is “the preservation and rehabilitation of the Martinsburg Roundhouse Center for adaptive re-use as an historic attraction of National significance and community center for public events.”

“It is significant both for its railroading architecture by Albert Fink and John Rudolph Niernsee and for its role in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. It consists of three contributing buildings. The presence of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in Martinsburg dates back to the late 1840s, when the first engine and machine shops were erected for the expanding company. The shops were designated a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was founded on February 28, 1827. On May 21, 1842, the first steam locomotive arrived in Martinsburg and, later that same year, November 10, the first passenger train. The first roundhouse complex was constructed from 1848-1850. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the region’s social and government institutions were thrown in turmoil. The Civil War decimated both the region and Martinsburg, specifically because of the railroad yards. On May 22, 1861, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops stopped all trains going East at Martinsburg and Point of Rocks during the Great Train Raid of 1861. Once he determined that all of the trains that could be caught were in his trap, he blew up the bridges to the West and blew down the rocks on the tracks to the East, and pirating of the B&O equipment began. In total, 42 locomotives and 386 cars were stolen and destroyed. 36-½ miles of track, 17 bridges, 102 miles of telegraph wire, the “Colonnade” Bridge and the B&O roundhouse and machine shops were destroyed.” — from Wikipedia

We decided to have lunch in Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia — first settled in 1730 — ten miles east on WV-45. My wife Jennifer and I had visited here, and the Antietam National Battlefield once before back in the 1990’s, and we’ll likely return for more visits in the future.

Our first impression was that the town seemed much more vibrant. After enjoying Maria’s outstanding ‘Chimi’s at Maria’s Taqueria, walking up and down German Street with a stop at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, and grabbing some delicious caffeinated beverages at Lost Dog Coffee, that impression was confirmed.

We talked with a very nice retired couple, who are volunteers at the museum, and they told us if you only read one thing, make sure you read the letter from Henrietta Bedinger Lee to Union General David Hunter (which I’ve copied below). After asking about other historic Civil War sites in town, they suggested we take a drive down River Road to Pack Horse Ford, about one mile downstream on the Potomac River. It was here that early settlers crossed the river, and where Robert E. Lee and A.P. Hill crossed into Maryland on the march to the Battle of Antietam (little more than seven miles north), and where after the battle Lee’s Army retreated with the Corn Exchange Regiment and other Federals in hot pursuit.

Jennifer and I enjoyed a short hike through the relics at Pack Horse Ford along the Potomac, and then we headed north to Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862.

General Hunter:
Jefferson County, July 20, 1864.

General Hunter:
Yesterday your underling, Captain Martindale, of the First New York cavalry, executed your infamous order and burned my house. You have had the satisfaction ere this of receiving from him the information that your orders were fulfilled to the letter; the dwelling and every out-building, seven in number, with their contents, being burned. I, therefore, a helpless woman whom you have cruelly wronged, address you, a Major-General of the United States army, and demand why this was done? What was my offence? My husband was absent, an exile. He had never been a politician or in any way engaged in the struggle now going on, his age preventing. This fact your Chief-of-Staff, David Strother, could have told you. The house was built by my father, a Revolutionary soldier, who served the whole seven years for your independence. There was I born; there the sacred dead repose. It was my house and my home, and there has your niece (Miss Griffith) who has tarried among us all this horrid war up to the present time, met with all kindness and hospitality at my hands. Was it for this that you turned me, my young daughter and little son out upon the world without a shelter? Or was it because my husband is the grandson of the Revolutionary patriot and “rebel,” Richard Henry Lee, and the near kinsman of the noblest of Christian warriors, the greatest of Generals, Robert E. Lee? Heaven’s blessing be upon his head forever. You and your Government have failed to conquer, subdue or match him; and disappointment, rage and malice find vent on the helpless and inoffensive.

Hyena like, you have torn my heart to pieces! for all hallowed memories clustered around that homestead, and, demon-like, you have done it without even the pretext of revenge, for I never saw or harmed you. Your office is not to lead, like a brave man and soldier, your men to fight in the ranks of war, but your work has [216] been to separate yourself from all danger, and with your incendiary band steal unawares upon helpless women and children, to insult and destroy. Two fair homes did you yesterday ruthlessly lay in ashes, giving not a moment’s warning to the startled inmates of your wicked purpose; turning mothers and children out of doors, you are execrated by your own men for the cruel work you give them to do.

In the case of Colonel A. R. Boteler, both father and mother were far away. Any heart but that of Captain Martindale (and yours) would have been touched by that little circle, comprising a widowed daughter just risen from her bed of illness, her three fatherless babies — the oldest not five years old — and her heroic sister. I repeat, any man would have been touched at that sight but Captain Martindale. One might as well hope to find mercy and feeling in the heart of a wolf bent on his prey of young lambs, as to search for such qualities in his bosom. You have chosen well your agent for such deeds, and doubtless will promote him!

A colonel of the Federal army has stated that you deprived forty of your officers of their commands because they refused to carry on your malignant mischief. All honor to their names for this at least! They are men — they have human hearts and blush for such a commander!

I ask who that does not wish infamy and disgrace attached to him forever would serve under you? Your name will stand on history’s page as the Hunter of weak women and innocent children; the Hunter to destroy defenceless villages and refined and beautiful homes — to torture afresh the agonized hearts of widows; the Hunter of Africa’s poor sons and daughters to lure them on to ruin and death of soul and body; the Hunter with the relentless heart of a wild beast, the face of a fiend and the form of a man. Oh, Earth, behold the monster! Can I say, “God forgive you” ? No prayer can be offered for you! Were it possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back again, and demons claim their own. The curses of thousands, the scorn of the manly and upright and the hatred of the true and honorable, will follow you and yours through all time, and brand your name infamy! Infamy!

Again, I demand why you have burned my home? Answer as you must answer before the Searcher of all hearts, why have you added this cruel, wicked deed to your many crimes?

—Henrietta B. Lee

The 155th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam would be honored the following day, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing. Field musicians representing 14th Tennessee Company B were performing in front of Dunkirk Chuch as the golden hour arrived and their tunes struck deep. It was quite humid, and I said to Jennifer, just imagine how the boys and men felt as they fought the battle all day long in their woolen uniforms with all their equipment.

Twilight at the Antietam National Cemetery, where National Park Rangers were giving an interpretative talk, brought an end to our day.

As you walk through the gate, it does not seem like there could be 5,000 souls buried here, yet sadly this is true.


One can find peace of mind in West Virginia

West Virginia is uniquely beautiful, age-old and stately at once.

Morgantown is our new home, and from here we will explore.

Coopers Rock State Forest, just east of Morgantown, is a universe in itself; a place where one can find peace of mind.

Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia — April 2016 (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)
A fabulous view of the Cheat River valley is seen from the end of Raven Rock Trail in Coopers Rock State Forest in Morgantown, W.Va., on October 24, 2016. (Photo by Mark Shephard)


High on a ladder,
see the paint fly.
The men are up early
painting the sky.

Here since sunrise
with brushes and buckets,
the white clouds are up now
and lots more besides:

mountains of storm
and oceans of purple
with islands of sun
golden as corn.

There’s lots to be done,
but finish they shall —
they do every day —
somehow before sundown
they’re all gone away.

—Marc Harshman

(poet laureate of West Virginia)

Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia — April 2016 (Photo by Mark Shephard)

Morgantown Photographer Mark A. Shephard provides senior pictures in Monongalia County

“Time to open up a new chapter in life, and to explore a larger centre.” — Lillian Russell

WVU’s Core Arboretum is a great location for Morgantown senior pictures and family sessions.

West Virginia University’s Core Aboretum in Morgantown, W.Va., proved perfect for Drew’s senior photo session.

We met up with Drew and his mother, Tara, during the golden pre-twilight hours, and set up our Profoto lights, which are very easy to move around quickly.

Drew’s senior photos will form a cherished visual chapter that will be bookmarked as he heads off to pursue a higher education.

WVU’s Core Arboretum is a great location for Morgantown senior pictures and family sessions.

Samantha and Jonathan tie the knot after meeting at the car wash

Jonathan first set eyes on Samantha at a car wash, and love soon followed.

Samantha and Jonathan were married in Morgantown, W.Va., on September 24, 2016. (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)

I met with the couple over coffee, and a couple of weeks later their wedding day had arrived.

It was nice to hear Jonathan tell me that they had decided to hire me because I’m a veteran. Much appreciated, sir, and thank you for your service.

Lake Manor Bed and Breakfast in Morgantown, W.Va., — an “intimate, yet elegant” establishment — is where the day got underway. I photographed the guys in a formal outdoors fashion, and then captured a few pictures of Samantha and the girls as they were finishing getting ready. The living room proved perfect for pre-ceremony family and formal group shots.

Samantha and Jonathan exchanged vows during an intimate Baptist ceremony.

Samantha and Jonathan were married in Morgantown, W.Va., on September 24, 2016. (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)

I set up my Profoto lights for formals and romantics, and then we all headed to the reception.

Samantha and Jonathan were married in Morgantown, W.Va., on September 24, 2016. (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)

You can see more of Samantha and Jonathan’s wedding photos at

The crevasse that is Rock City Trail in Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia

One of my absolute favorite places to get photographically lost in is the Rock City Trail within the 12,747-acre Coopers Rock State Forest near Morgantown, West Virginia.

It is a fairly easy hike to the entrance of the long crevasse that is surrounded by lofty outcrops.

When we recently entered Coopers Rock State Forest on an overcast morning in July, I was proven wrong when I said to my wife Jennifer that the forest seemed too dark to go hiking, that there wouldn’t be enough light for photographic purposes. On this day the big soft box created by the overcast sky helped to soften the ragged beauty of the Rock City Trail.

The Rock City Trail in Coopers Rock State Forest in Morgantown, W.Va., offers many natural wonders, including beautiful rhododendrons, West Virginia’s state flower. (iPhone 6 Plus photo by Mark A. Shephard)

As a photographer the possibilities are endless, and today the color palette runs from endless variations of greens through the soft pinks of rhododendrons, the state flower of West Virginia. On a good day, the colors and textures will have you visualizing your surroundings like a hawk. If you’re like us, you’ll make your way through the crevasse, and then want to see whats up above, and the view down onto the trail.

The Rock City Trail in Coopers Rock State Forest in Morgantown, W.Va., offers many natural wonders, including beautiful rhododendrons, West Virginia’s state flower. (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)

Jen and I have only hiked and photographed the trail twice thus far, as we just moved to Morgantown at the end of 2015. The first time we were assisted by a fellow hiker in finding the trail after a long, hot hike on several other trails. It was a pleasing end to our excursion, and I captured a hiker on my iPhone as he headed the way we had come from.

These photographs were all captured with an iPhone 6Plus, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll be able to do with my Nikon gear as time and the seasons goes by.

The Rock City Trail in Coopers Rock State Forest in Morgantown, W.Va., offers many natural wonders, including beautiful rhododendrons, West Virginia’s state flower. (Photo by Mark A. Shephard)

New West Virginia photographers capture Allysan and Alexander’s wedding day at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia

Allysan and Alexander were married at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, W.Va., on July 9, 2016.

As a photographer, there is something special about witnessing two people very much in love, their vows to share that love, and the joy shared by their families and friends during the course of the couple’s wedding day.

Allysan and Alexander are definitely very much in love, and on July 9, 2016, my wife Jennifer and I photographed their wedding day at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Having just moved to Morgantown, W.Va., from Elkhart, Ind., at the end of 2015, Allysan and Alexander’s wedding was our first here in West Virginia.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer couple, a more beautiful location, or a more unique and rewarding day.

Our day began in the bridal suite, where Allysan, her bridesmaids, and maids of honor were dressed in very colorful kimonos. Emma watched with glee as Bridget popped another bottle of champagne for some more mimosas.

The conversation was spirited, and I thought out loud that I needed to start shooting video, as there were some priceless moments of frivolity that would have been a hit on YouTube.

Allysan soon made her appearance in her dress that her grandmother had fashioned. Shortly after that, Alex got to see her for the first time when they both arrived at the mansion for pre-ceremony formals.

The reception was my first vegan meal that I’ve witnessed in my 16 years of shooting weddings. The mushrooms were outstanding.

The toasts were heartfelt and humorous. Little bottles of Maker’s Mark were provided for the occasion.

Dancing kicked off with Allysan and Alex’s choice of “Kiss” by Prince, and then the rest of the evening became a blur.

Truly, it was a beautiful day to be with everyone that participated in helping Allysan and Alex celebrate it.

Visit to view Allysan and Alexander’s wedding photos.