It’s a 360-acre piece of property — soon to be open to the public — complete with caves, a spectacular waterfall, working farmland and upland forest, all made possible by two sisters who made an extraordinary gift.
The Land Trust of North Alabama will soon open its eighth nature preserve, this one on Keel Mountain in Madison County with 200 acres open for outdoor recreation.
Bethel Spring Nature Preserve will offer a little under two miles of free trails to explore from dawn to dusk daily. It opens after 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29. An opening celebration is set for 2 p.m. but limited parking has already closed that time slot. The trailhead is at 2641 Cherry Tree Road in Gurley.
Bethel Spring Nature Preserve is possible because of two sisters — Doris McGee and Marcell Dean — who gave the property to the Land Trust. It had been in their family for over 132 years.
Historical records from 1732-1840 paint 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.”
The 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 death, 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, though the house had to be demolished 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.
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.