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Buttermilk Falls Trail

A cache by Mooseky Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 2/26/2009
1 out of 5
2 out of 5

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Geocache Description:

Meade County occupies over 324 square miles of land which is mostly underlain by a sinkhole plain.  Surface drainage in this area is rare with each sinkhole acting as a vertical input to the ground water supply.  This forms a lattice work of cave passages that feed trunk channels.  These cave trunk channels in turn lead to major karst resurgences, sometimes many miles away.

A resurgence is where the subterranean water flow reaches the surface, or better known as a spring.  All resurgences are found either in the floor or walls of major valleys extending back from the Ohio River or along the Muldraugh Escarpment adjacent to the Ohio River.  Meade County’s three major creeks Doe Run, Otter Creek, and Wolf Creek all either originate from or contain major resurgences.  Karst resurgences are broken down into three physical categories: blue holes, occluded bluff springs, or tubular bluff springs.  Blue hole springs discharge beneath the surface of the water where occluded bluff and tubular bluff springs discharge at or above the surface of the water.  Occluded bluff springs are obscured by slumped material over the free face of the bluff springs.

Buttermilk Falls

More than 40 significant springs have been indexed in Meade County with seven of these considered major resurgences.  The largest of these springs being Doe Run complex, Hamilton Hill, and Wolf Creek Rise with each having recorded flows of over 1000 cubic feet per second during periods of flood.  In other words these springs can issue massive flows of water.  The Buttermilk Falls complex is the smallest of the major resurgences but one of the most scenic.

Buttermilk Falls Historic Walking Trail

Parking & Trailhead
N38 00.235 W86 09.887

In 1996 the town of Brandenburg recognized they had a hidden treasure here and began the clean up of tons of trash that had accumulated from years of abuse.  They added paved walking trails and benches to create a park like setting you see today.  The now closed road that passes Buttermilk Falls extends for a total length of about 2 ½ miles one way and makes for an excellent hike and bike trail.

Small Springs - N38 00.222 W86 09.871
If you are fortunate enough to visit shortly after a period of rain you will hear the sound of flowing water as soon as you pass by the trailhead entrance gate. The sounds you hear are from the first two of many small occluded bluff springs you will encounter along the Muldraugh Escarpment as you wind your way along this paved trail.

Collapsed Spring - N38 00.185 W86 09.785 
 Here you will notice the recent collapse of the soil and rock above around a small spring.  Karst  hydrosystems are constantly slowly changing and in this instance the ground around the spring had become unstable as water undercut the strata below it. This collapse which occurred in the winter of 2008 altered the water flow here.  The water that once flowed from this spring most likely has been diverted to a nearby spring or continues to flow beneath the current creek bed and exists somewhere below the trail. 

Flippins Run - N38 00.149 W86 09.662
As you are walking down the trail you can see Fippins Run to your left.  Flippins Run is the drainage conduit for all the springs in the Buttermilk Falls Complex.  It’s confluence with the Ohio River is near the boat ramp. During periods when the Ohio Rivers pool level is high, water backs up Flippins Run in this area flooding the lower valley area below you.

Old Potters Workshop - N38 00.036 W86 09.597
James Miller was a local potter who had a kiln up the hill from here at the turn of the century.  He collected clay soil, used in his pottery near this stream which is fed by two nearby springs.  Many shards of pottery and crockery have been found in this streambed where they have washed down from above.

Lithograph Quarry - N38 00.059 W86 09.579
If you look closely you can see several concrete forms in the hillside here.  These are remnants of a Lithograph Quarry that operated here from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s.  The limestone was quarried here and transported by barge to New Orleans where it was used for printing.  The artist would draw directly on the flat smooth piece of limestone and then the stone was used to produce additional prints.  At the time this was the only known source of lithograph quality stone available in the US.

Lithograph Quarry Ruins

Lithograph Quality Stone

Mint Spring
N38 00.117 W86 09.533

Mint spring is a tubular bluff type spring.  The spring was once used as the public water supply for the town of Brandenburg.  The cave entrance was dammed to facilitate water collection and water was then pumped up to the city water tower.    This spring was abandoned as a water source when it was found to contain pollutants.  

Two new wells were drilled down into the aquifer which afforded maximum infiltration from the river and cave spring flows and this in turn provided a safer water supply for the town.  Mint spring’s water flow is variable ranging from 60 to over 2500 gallons per minute. A new shelter house now stands on the foundation of the old pump house.

Mint Spring

Mint Spring Cave

Buttermilk Falls
N38 00.124 W86 09.438

The Buttermilk Falls complex consists of more than a dozen Occluded Bluff Springs.
For many years these springs served as a source of water for families through out this part of Meade County.  Pipes were added to some of the springs to facilitate water collection.  I remember coming here years ago and seeing farm tank trucks being filled.  The trucks would haul the water to people’s homes to be stored in their cisterns.  In addition folks would come here from all around to fill up their water containers from the springs.

The springs of Buttermilk falls were closed for public consumption in 1982 after an outbreak of hepatitis due to fecal coli form contamination from septic tank seepage and farm runoff into sinkholes.  This was a classic case on how indiscriminate dumping of human, animal, and farm waste in dolines up above in the sinkhole plain eventually contaminated the town’s drinking water.  Tests show that elevated levels of E-Coli still persist in the spring water to this day although at a much lower level than during the hepatitis breakout. A better awareness by the community of drainage patterns has been attributed to this improvement.  
The springs of Buttermilk Falls are developed in the Saint Louis Limestone and are a good example of valley wall karst resurgences.  The collective discharge from this spring complex is between 250 to over 3000 gallons per minute depending on weather conditions.

Left Section of Springs

Right Section of Springs

Lower Cascades

Beyond the Falls:
From here the trail continues on for another 1.4 miles to the other gate and parking lot near Arch Chemical Plant.  Three additional springs can be found along the escarpment within a few hundred feet of here.  If you are interested in logging a benchmark, one can be found about four tenths of a mile further down the trail where it crosses a creek.

To get credit for this Earthcache post a picture of yourself with GPS in hand with Buttermilk Falls or Mint Spring in the background, and send an email to Mooseky@gmail.comwith the answers to the following questions. 

1. What is the geologic name for a spring?
2. What are the three types of springs?
3. What is the predominant type spring along Buttermilk Falls Trail?
4. How many active springs did you observe along the trail today? (Answer would vary by season and weather conditions)
5. What is the size of the cave opening at Mint Spring?
6. What is the total elevation drop from the mouth of Buttermilk Falls spring all the way down to the bottom of the cascades below the trail? 

Grateful thanks is extended to Bees4me for her help in developing this EC.

George, A.I. (1972) - Karst of Meade County, Kentucky: Guidebook to the Kentucky Speleofest;  p.1-31.
Wilson, Doug & A.I. George (1976) -  Selected Hydrosystems of Meade County, Kentucky: Guidebook to the Kentucky Speleofest;  p.7-17.
Bergeisen G.H., M. W. Hinds, & J. W. Skaggs
(1985) A Waterborne Outbreak of Hepatitis A in Meade County, Kentucky American Journal of Public Health. February 1985; p.161–164.
Meade County Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism - "Buttermilk Falls Historic Walking Trail"

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