Keystone park vistas inspire award-winning New Alexandria photographer
Keystone State Park hides few sites around its 78-acre lake that Carolyn Anderson hasn’t explored.
“I have probably been at every spot you can be at,” said the lifelong resident of nearby New Alexandria. “I’ve been in the bushes, hanging from trees, everything.”
Anderson travels to the Derry Township park about every other day in search of a new perspective on its natural charms, which she captures with her digital camera and shares online.
“What draws my attention is its beauty,” she said of the park. “You can’t miss out on a picture there.”
Anderson, 47, has made images of her favorite outdoor venue in every season. The frozen moments that never cease to amaze her — or her Facebook page followers — are the vibrant arrivals of sunrise and sunset, reflected on the surface of Keystone Lake.
“Winter usually gives you excellent sunrises and summer usually gives the best sunsets,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll run around the lake for a few miles. Then I’ll sit at a picnic table, watch for the sunset and take it in.”
One sunset Anderson photographed will be enjoyed by a new audience after the image won first place in the “places” category of last year’s Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau photo contest. Netting her a $500 prize, it is featured on page 46 of the Laurel Highlands 2019 Destination Guide, a tourism publication that began distribution last week throughout Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties, and beyond.
Anderson’s photo and other contest entries also will be exhibited at a series of venues, including the Bottle Works arts center in Johnstown’s Cambria City Historic District, beginning Feb. 21.
Anderson has sold prints of her photos through the Etsy and Shutterstock websites, and she self-published a 2017 book of her seasonal Keystone images. Her photos also have appeared in the pages of Wisconsin-based Country magazine, for which she serves as a volunteer field editor.
She’s entered her photos in area juried shows, the Westmoreland Art Nationals and Mr. Fred Rogers Fine Arts Regional exhibition, and placed in photo contests sponsored by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. In 2015, she had a solo show of her work at New Alexandria’s New Growth Gallery.
Mostly, she’s freely shared her prolific photography output through her Facebook page and such online groups as Only In Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Proud.
She also contributes photos to Keystone State Park’s Facebook page — to the delight of park manager Kris Baker, who owns prints of two Anderson photos and has become well acquainted with the photographer and her family during their frequent outings at the park.
“They’re extremely humble people and a great family,” Baker said of Anderson, her husband, Dan, and their daughters, Brianna, 19, and Aleah, 14. “They all have a deep interest for the outdoors. We love having them here.”
Anderson’s photos are “a free marketing campaign for us,” Baker said. Through last week, about 3,000 people had checked out the park’s Facebook post of her winning Laurel Highlands entry, he noted.
“We get a lot more traffic to our site because people share the (photographic) experience that she shared with them,” Baker said. “The way that she captures the park, to me, gives a perspective that sometimes I miss and take for granted because I’m here every day.”
When her photos receive favorable comments online, Anderson said, “It keeps me inspired. I know it made them happy for a moment. That’s what matters.”
When Anderson delved seriously into her photography hobby and also took up running, in 2007, the pursuits were part of her response to being diagnosed with an anxiety order and depression.
“It gave me something to look forward to and have peace with,” she said of taking photos. With running, she noted, “I could focus my energies on something other than being sad.”
With the additional help of medication and therapy sessions, Anderson is able to manage her condition. Meanwhile, her commitment to running and photography has taken her to levels she’d never anticipated.
Training on trails at the state park prepared her for the 2018 Pittsburgh Half Marathon, which she ran to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, in honor of Brianna, who has Type I diabetes.
Initially self-taught, Anderson recently completed her first formal photography course, at Westmoreland County Community College, and is considering putting her camera to use for more than a hobby. She’s investing her contest prize money in an updated computer to help in editing her photos.
No matter what direction Anderson’s photography may take, it will always include regular trips to Keystone.
“That’s my time for me,” she said.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.