Opening Hike, Waterfall

Bethel Spring North Alabama Land Trust: Yet Another Natural Gem

A Corona Virus Statement of Context

I am completing this Post on March 15, 2020 as the Corona virus pandemic is burdening our spirit, dashing economic activity, and giving us pause to reflect on the specter of a future bug that could place our entire humanity at peril. I am at my computer only because we cancelled a trip north to visit our son and his family in Pittsburgh. I admit that Judy and I are a bit bummed. Yet I know that Nature is unfazed. She marches on… unconcerned about our future. I take solace that life will prevail no mater what!


Visiting Bethel Spring Nature Preserve

February 29, 2020, The Land Trust of North Alabama cut the ribbon to open a new feature property and trails, the Bethel Spring Nature Preserve:

I participated in the Land History Hike, led by local historian John Kvach, who shared 150 years of history for the 360-acre property on Keel Mountain in Madison County. A fabulous piece of southern Appalachian woodland complete with mixed upland forest, a few early spring ephemerals, limestone ledges, karst topography, a gorgeous waterfall, an old mill site, and a spring house at the trail-head. I won’t duplicate the website detail, nor rehash the history that John so ably presented. Instead, I’ll offer some Nature observations, reflections, and photos from our hike.

Opening Hike


In prior Posts for my explorations of Land Trust property, I’ve made these paraphrased comments, worthy of repeating:

I offer another tribute and appreciation to our Land Trust of North Alabama for its partnership in creating the Bethel Spring Nature Preserve and other special places locally. I love the Land Trust’s tagline: “Conservation in Action!” As a former four-time university president, I hold that application adds value to knowledge. Applying knowledge (driven by dedication and passion) brings action to bear. Without applying action to conservation, we as humanity, communities, and individuals practice only a shallow and meaningless conservation inaction. Amazing how removing that one space (between ‘in’ and ‘action’) changes the entire essence. Talking by itself can amount merely to conservation virtue-signaling. The Land Trust gets it done! I applaud its action, guided by a succinct and noble mission: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future.

Needless to say, I am a big Land Trust of North Alabama fan! The weather-makers blessed us with a perfect Saturday. Since December 1, 2019 I had measured just under 30″ of rain through February. You’ll see a bit later that the waterfall blessed us with full flow. The falls dump into a sink, resurfacing at the spring house (below left), near the trailhead at approximately 630′ elevation. That’s John below right addressing our group.

Bethel Springs Nature PreserveOpening Hike, at Spring House


I include the trail sign photo for two reasons. First, to show that the trails are well-marked. Second, to chronicle our flow through the property. You can follow along on the website trail map:

Opening Hike, First Leg


We hiked beneath these distinctive limestone ledges through second-growth (at least) upland hardwood, predominately oak and hickory. The poor stocking, maximum heights 60-70-feet, and lots of dead and down woody debris suggested low site quality on the SSE-facing convex slope. However, at some point likely 80+ years ago a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) seed found relatively friendly and fertile footing lower right.

Opening Hike, Scrub along LedgeOpening Hike, Glynn at Big Lob


We stopped along what John called an “old federal road,” still at the foot of the exposed ledge, remaining in the poor quality (my forester’s timber value perspective) stand of mixed upland hardwoods.

Opening Hike, Old Federal Road


Gradually ascending to the 710-foot contour, we turned left from Carpenter Trail onto Falling Sink Trail, which led us to Bethel Spring Falls at 1,040-feet.

Opening Hike, Second Leg


We could not have hoped for a better day — early spring, bright sunshine, and lots of water cascading into the sink.

Opening Hike, Group at FallsOpening Hike, Waterfall


I could have sat there for hours, yet the tour continued. I had hoped to capture a photo suggesting that I was alone with the falls. However, a blue-jeaned leg appeared before I snapped the shutter!

Opening Hike, Leaving the Falls


The Mill Trail descended from the falls. A stream does not carry the flow from the falls above ground. The yawning-mouthed sink swallows the flow, ushering it through the karst topography to the spring house. The sink covers a little less than an acre, a concavity with deep rich soils. One yellow poplar exceeded 100-feet, reaching higher than the lip of the falls. I love these southern Appalachian Mountain sinks. They remind me of the tremendously productive cove sites, concave positions on lower north and east slopes throughout our ancient mountains.

Opening Hike, Acre Sink Below FallsOpening Hike, Descending to Mill Foundation


As we dropped toward the old mill, this loblolly pine evidenced its relationship with insects and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. We foresters call this “bird peck.” Sapsuckers tend to work their bark search and mining operations back and forth, hence the horizontal pecking pattern.

Opening Day, Y-B Sapsucker Pecks


The old mill house foundation (below left) stands at about the 850-foot level. All of the wooden top-structure has long since returned to the soil through decay or fire. Only a few iron relics belie the foundation’s purpose. I had spent too much time exploring in the sink to hear much of John’s history explanation. I saw no evidence that water power had originated from natural surface flow. No apparent mill race. I assume that operators directed water from the falls via closed pipes or half-pipes. Again, the tour moved on down the trail. Perhaps I can devote a future visit to exploring at depth. The photo below right suggests that the site warrants considerable study and contemplation.

Opening Hike, Mill FoundationOpening Hike, at Mill Foundation


I persuaded a fellow hiker to catch me at the preserve sign after we completed our hike.

Opening Hike


Early Spring Ephemerals


It’s that time of year when spring ephemerals begin exploding on the forest floor. They appear in predictable sequence. None of the “first will be last” for these reliable understory beauties. Near the spring house we found rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). Like all woodland spring ephemerals, these two splendid white denizens flourish during the warming period prior to forest canopy leaf-out, when sunlight reaches the forest floor uninhibited. Even their foliage senesces by early June, thus the ephemeral moniker.

Open Hike, Rue anemone

Opening Hike, Hepatica













Not surprisingly, we also found cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) and common blue violet (Viola sororia) in full flower. The woods are alive with beauty, magic, wonder, and awe for those willing to walk slowly and marvel at the vernal gifts!

Opening Hike, cutleaf toothwortOpening Hike, violet

With each day of spring’s progression, the flower sequence will shift and numbers increase. There will come a time soon when rather than chronicle all my observations I will simply hit the highlights. For now, I shall cherish each appearance of a new flower face!

And Some Resurrection Fern


I never tire of our resurrection fern (Pleopeltis michauxiana) — our aerial moisture-meter. Whether draping from the fork of a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) at the parking lot or perched atop a trail-side rock, the fern flushes with recent rain or wilts to desiccation during dry periods. Nature’s ways astound at every turn. This remarkable fern need not waste energy reaching for the sun — tree branches give it lift. Dead organic matter furnishes all the anchorage and nutrients necessary for this non-flowering plant that asks for little. Our 55-inch annual rainfall brings full life often enough to help this wonderful plant thrive in our southern sylvan oases.

Opening Hike, Parking LotOpening Hike, on Rock in Forest


 What a thrill and privilege to wonder Nature’s places new to me. I will return to Bethel Spring… hopefully with a grandkid or two in tow. I am grateful to live in a land blessed with wonders near and far… and with an active Land Trust dedicated to preserving and protecting our natural legacy.

The Land Trust of North Alabama mission is simple, succinct, and noble: The Land Trust preserves land and its legacies for conservation, public recreation, and environmental education to enhance quality of life in North Alabama now and for the future. I urge you to visit the Trust’s website: Please consider joining and or contributing. 


Thoughts and Reflections


I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature, with the help of the dedicated efforts of a local Land Trust, is identifying, protecting, and preserving natural heritage for tomorrow
  2. Nature’s power to inspire and lift us is unfathomable
  3. We can all do our part to make some small corner of the world better through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts:

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.


  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!


Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHarvest Square


My two Alabama grandsons did not accompany me to Bethel Spring Nature Preserve. Instead of them flanking the Bethel Spring Preserve Land Trust sign, I reverted above to the Land Trust’s Harvest Square sign.

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.