***COVID-19 Update: Please review our updated trail rules before your next visit. All pavilions, playgrounds, and picnic areas are closed.
Land Trust of North Alabama’s eighth public preserve – Bethel Spring Nature Preserve – is a 360 acre property on Keel Mountain with 200 acres open for outdoor recreation. The preserve currently offers hikers a little under two miles of free trails to explore from dawn to dusk daily, including upland forest, working farmland, historic sites, an environmentally-significant spring and creek, as well as one of Madison County’s largest waterfalls.
Bethel Creek Loop Trail: (0.3 mile) This .3 mile crushed gravel loop trail welcomes hikers at the start of the trail system and makes natural exploration accessible to visitors of varying abilities. An easy stroll, the trail passes alongside working farmland and Bethel Creek before returning to the trailhead and parking area. Enjoy a picturesque valley view looking up toward Keel Mountain.
Carpenter Trail (0.4 mile) | Falling Sink Trail (0.5 mile) | Mill Trail (0.4 mile): Together, these three trails create a 1.3 mile loop hike that winds up and back down the side of Keel Mountain leading to the spectacular waterfall. We recommend following this route as the climb up Mill Trail may be more difficult. This hike is difficult due to change in elevation (an increase of approximately 400 feet) and some slippery and/or rocky areas. The falls – one of Madison County’s largest – is impressive enough above ground but continues its decent into a cave below, flows downhill underground, and exits through a spring at the base of the mountain. The cave below the falls – Paul’s Cave, one of three known to exist on the property, is listed on the Alabama Cave Survey as 1,338 feet in length and 334 feet in depth. These and other limestone features are common to Keel Mountain due to its significant karst geology. Due to safety concerns and the vulnerability of these unique ecosystems, caves on all Land Trust nature preserves are not open to the public without a permit acquired through the National Speleological Society.
Bethel Spring’s pristine natural land provides habitat and a reliable water source for native wildlife. It also serves as an important potential roosting habitat for federally endangered Indiana and Northern Long Eared Bats. There are two major hibernaculums for these species found within five miles of the property. The spring feeds Bethel Creek from there, generating an ideal habitat for a variety of aquatic species. The Land Trust is currently working with local biologists to identify fish and mussels found in the spring and creek. A fish count conducted by UAH in 2017 identified Bethel Creek as having a particularly healthy population of Flame Chub (Hemitremia flammea) and Blackfin Darters (Etheostoma nigripinne). A research project is currently in progress evaluating a variety of flora along the trails so if you encounter pin flags, please leave them in place.
An Extraordinary Gift
Bethel Spring Nature Preserve is possible because of two sisters – Doris McGee and Marcell Dean – who generously donated their land to the Land Trust. This property, part of their family for over 132 years, is noted in historical accounts as a picturesque landscape and a community gathering site for nearby residents. A History of Madison County and Incidentally of North Alabama 1732-1840 paints a picture of this area in the early 1800’s saying “a mill and cotton gin…ran all winter by the waters of the falling spring that during the large part of the season forms a romantic and beautiful little waterfall in the heart of the mountain above Bethel.” Both sisters knew they wanted to preserve the mountain, farm, and magnificent natural features just as they were. In 2014, at the time of Marcell’s passing, the Land Trust took over as future stewards of this special place. The preserve’s trailhead and parking area are located adjacent to the sisters’ former homesite. The house unfortunately had to be torn down due to significant damage incurred as the ground below it slowly sank into one of the property’s cave sites. Where the creek meanders past the homesite there are two benches as a memorial and quiet spot for visitors to gather and appreciate Doris and Marcell’s extraordinary gift to the community.