A stop along the Bartram Trail, the Beecher Run Nature Trail at Welaka National Fish Hatchery provides a walk beneath ancient pines along the edge of the hatchery ponds, which are fed by historic Beecher Spring.
Length: 0.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.4419, -81.6498
Land manager: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Open daylight hours.
From US 17, follow Georgetown Point Rd (CR 309) south into Welaka. After you pass the intersection at Elm Street with a convenience store, CR 309 continues south through the first portion of the fish hatchery and past 40 Acre Park. After you pass the two entrances to Welaka State Forest and the road that leads to Mount Royal and the Fort Gates Ferry, look for the parking area for this trail on the left: the tower is a good landmark.
Developed in 1926 to propagate fish that thrive in warm water, the Welaka National Fish Hatchery has two sets of ponds. The ones at Beecher Run are fed by Beecher Spring. Before you take a ramble on this nature trail, climb up to the top of the observation deck to look over the ponds. A Bartram Trail marker is at the base of the tower.
That forest line on the far side of the ponds is where Beecher Spring is. In 1765, botanist John Bartram and his son William followed the spring run up from the St. Johns River to find its source. Since the 1920s, a portion of the run has been diverted into these ponds.
While the Beecher Run Nature Trail was established as an interpretive trail, we could not find a corresponding interpretive guide, and some of the numbered posts are missing. It’s a short loop, which we followed counterclockwise. There is an opening along the edge of the ponds with a bench next to a clear, spring-fed stream. While we stood here, two juvenile bald eagles flew overhead. Without binoculars, we spotted several species of herons and egrets helping themselves to the bounty of the ponds.
The trail continues to loop through old growth pine flatwoods with a dense understory of saw palmetto. A bulldozer made a few dead-end side paths. Once you’re past the bench, there is no need to take those side trails to the right. This is a loop, and it keeps turning left until you complete it.
When we first hiked it, Marker 7 pointed out a large catfaced pine, slashed to produce turpentine. If you watch the tree trunks, you’ll find quite a few of these in the forest.