Our National Treasures: The Cover Photo Story

Cuyahoga Valley National Park trail – James Smith


Why did I choose the beautiful, green, lush stairway in the midst of Cuyahoga Valley National Park for my book cover? It became more clear as my writing journey progressed. The original design for the book cover was one of Jesus with a glow behind the image with a sunset in the background. No matter how much I fiddled with the imagery, it looked elementary. So, I began the search.

I looked at photo sites, which required payment for picture use, and decided there must be something out there for free. I found Pixabay.com – a site which holds works of photographers, artists, and graphic designers – free to download and free for commercial use. I searched for stairs, stairways or steps  – a common image to use when climbing towards a goal, reaching a milestone, or taking a path to higher ground.

The photo I chose was taken by James Smith, photographer and owner of Photos with a Flourish. Even with the “Free for Commercial Use” statement, I felt compelled to reach out to him and convey my intent. I sent James a message in March 2016 explaining I wanted to use his photo for a book cover and asked if he would allow me to cite his name for the credit. He responded three days later – reason it took so long – he called the office of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to explain my intended use and seek guidance. They said “Yes” and so did James. A year and a half later, the book, Finding My Damascus, was published – beautiful cover and all.


My husband Greg and I hike the local trails in the nearby South Mountain range in the Cumberland Valley region of Pennsylvania. One of our favorites is White Rocks Trail, connecting to the Appalachian Trail, which also runs through our little town, Boiling Springs, PA. The first summer we lived in Pennsylvania, we hiked the two hour trek and came to the intersection of the Appalachian Trail. Through the trees, we caught site of the water towers close to our home, which guided us to see our house – way down in the valley, small, but unmistakable. Super cool!

As we turned to venture back to White Rocks Trail, I looked down and found a small wooden cross laying on top of pine needles in the middle of the trail. How did it get there? Not sure, but it came home with us. It was a little token reminding me God shows up when you least expect it – in this case, on the Appalachian Trail as we peered through the trees at our new home. Nicely done, God.


The photo for the cover of Finding My Damascus is stunning, as are the U.S. National Parks. When you look in the back of my book under Appendix, you will find more about the U.S. National Park Foundation, and a link to find out all it does to preserve our National Treasures. Listen to the interview with Pamela Barnes, Marketing Director of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to further understand how donations received recently help protect and preserve the beautiful land, and educate kids in the local schools.