In Our Own Backyard: The Beulah A. Laidlaw Preserve
Published: January 25th, 2022
Source: Heather Lopez
The Beulah A. Laidlaw Preserve is a birdwatcher paradise located just north of Vernon on Highway 79. This beautiful preserve is 272 acres of pristine woodlands that truly embodies the flora and fauna of our region of Florida. The preserve was deeded to Audubon Florida by Mrs. Laidlaw in her will and is one of the largest properties that the organization owns. All four chapters of the organization have participated in field trips and workdays on the property. You must enter the property by easement from another property that fronts Highway 79, which is why there is no public access to the property. You must be accompanied by a member of the Bay County Audubon Society, which are the custodians of the property, in order to get through the locked gate. Once you pass the entrance sign for the preserve, you drive along Frank’s Trace until you get to a clearing where you can park. Each trail within the preserve has been affectionately named for the individual Audubon member who helped create and maintain it. This particular trail was large enough for a vehicle to pass along it. This is so the organization can get equipment inside to maintain the other trails and facilities through the preserve. Amenities that can be found in the preserve include boardwalks through the boggy areas, a photoblind that was part of an Eagle Scouts project, a port-o-let and a large pole-barn style pavilion set upon a beautiful cypress pond that can be used for groups. While you are visiting the pavilion you can observe the wood duck houses that are affixed to a few cypress trees out in the pond.
The Bay County Audubon Society is always trying to improve the property for the public and its members. A comprehensive Adaptive Management Plan was put in place in June of 2009, shortly after the property was willed to Audubon Florida, that describes all of the resources of the property. The plan identified three signature species for protection: the Swainson’s Warbler, Gopher Tortoise, and native Florida Azalea. To date, over $10,000 worth of grants have been secured for various projects to improve the use and access of the preserve. Several groups of volunteers have assisted on these projects and general maintenance of the preserve, including the Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts and AmeriCorps.
Only about 10% of the preserve has been explored by the organization and they would love to be able to explore more. This means they will need more help in designing and cutting out new trails and creating more facilities through the property. The Bay County Audubon is a large chapter that encompasses not only Bay and Washington County but also Gulf, Calhoun, Holmes and Jackson counties. They are always looking for new members to join their efforts, and they need more members in Washington County to help maintain the Beulah Laidlaw Preserve. If you are interested in becoming a member, visit their website at http://www.baycountyaudubon.org/. If you are just interested in visiting the preserve on one of their field trip days or helping out on one of their workdays, you can keep a check on their upcoming events calendar on the website or sign up for their newsletter.
The Washington County Tourist Development Council is happy to have such a rich, diverse preserve in our own backyard that will be maintained for locals and tourists to learn and enjoy for generations to come. We strive to be a sustainable destination that embraces our exemplary resources, waterways and lands such as the Beulah A. Laidlaw Preserve.