Building a Boardwalk at Bethel
We recently installed a boardwalk at Bethel Spring Nature Preserve providing access to the springhouse. The project was funded by a grant from National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and we got lots of help from volunteers with CASA of Madison County, who typically utilize their skills building wheelchair ramps for those in need of assistance.
Like all of our trail care projects, there was a lot of planning before any construction began, but once things go started it took about 5 days to install.
The boardwalk begins at the end of the gravel portion of Carpenter Trail as it enters the woods and continues approximately 110 feet before transitioning to natural trail that will take you uphill and eventually towards the waterfall. A branch off of the main boardwalk leads to an observation space where visitors can see and learn about the springhouse. There are two benches here, one on either side of the observation platform, that offer a great place to sit and listen to the sounds of water bubbling. The bench on the right side is unique though. The horizontal timber used was once a beam that supported the ceiling of the springhouse. As we cleaned up the area in preparation for construction, the timber was found partially submerged in the creek and was incorporated into the project.
The completed boardwalk looks great but also addresses a variety of problems.
Why build a boardwalk?
- Washout & Trail Sustainability – This area of trail often flooded and washed out so the raised surface ensures a navigable trail despite the weather. The problem here is not just muddy hiking boots. As the trail bed continued to wash away with each rain shower, this meant constant maintenance. And when a clear trail isn’t distinguishable or is muddy, hikers will create their own path often making a wide detour from the intended trail to avoid the wet areas. This continuously disturbs or wears away surrounding plant life, which leads us to the second reason for the boardwalk.
- Protecting Plant Life – This area around the spring is a sanctuary for wildflowers. In the spring you’ll find a plethora of little blooms popping up all around the creek’s bank. However, the wildflowers were becoming less prevalent because of constant foot traffic. Because there was no defined path to the springhouse, visitors would, understandably curious, wander through the trees to get there taking a variety of different paths and unintentionally trampling plants along the way. The boardwalk will contain the foot traffic and avoid those sensitive areas so hopefully wildflowers and other plants surrounding the creek can flourish undisturbed.
- Extending Accessibility – Bethel Creek Loop and a short section at the beginning of Carpenter Trail are crushed gravel making it accessible for those with mobility issues. We hope to make our trails available to as many visitors as possible and, in this case, the flat, mostly level ground along Bethel Creek was ideal for a more accessible trail. However, the main point of interest in this area of the preserve – the springhouse – was not accessible for those visitors. The boardwalk was constructed with wheelchair access in mind. So, it’s is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and the observation area provides appropriate space to turn around.
What is the springhouse?
Bethel Spring was one of the farm’s most valuable assets and provided the family with cold, clear, pure water. Frank Ivy, who owned the property beginning in the late 1800’s, built a substantial springhouse out of limestone rocks to protect the spring from pollution. The springhouse also provided a cool space to store milk and other foods, essentially an early refrigerator.
You can download a trail map and find more information about Bethel Spring Nature Preserve at landtrustnal.org/bethel-spring-preserve.