December 5, 2008

In its former heyday, Buttermilk Falls in Meade County served as a "refrigerator" for local families wanting to keep their dairy products cold. Today, the falls, spring fed and bubbling down a wooded hillside toward the Ohio River below, is one of the attractions on the newly-developed Buttermilk Falls Heritage Trail in Brandenburg.

Jennifer Bridge and Andy Mills, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in Meade County, have been working closely with others in Meade County to create a scenic exercise trail for their community. The 2.5 mile path, a mile of which was paved last summer with the help of a Governor's Office for Local Development grant, gives local residents the opportunity not only to improve their health but to expand their minds.

"We wanted the physical activity component. We wanted it to be a place where families could come and spend time exercising together, but we also wanted an educational piece, and that's where the trees come in, because there's so many trees on the trail," said Bridge, the county's family and consumer sciences agent.

UK Assistant Forestry Professor Songlin Fei and some of his students are mapping and identifying trees along the path. The results of their work will be posted in an education center along the trail, as well as on the Web site.

"I'm teaching a GIS (geographic information systems) class. We wanted the students to not only get the knowledge from the books, but learn how to use it to communicate with the general public," Fei said. "This project worked out perfectly."

Using GIS and GPS, Fei and his students are creating a map of the different tree species along the path. Michael Shouse is Fei's graduate research assistant and is in charge of the data collection.

"It's pretty interesting because we actually take what we learned in class, and we get to apply it in a real world project," he said. "We've found over 20 different tree species so far, which makes for a good forest composition."

The Buttermilk Falls Heritage Trail project is a good example of how a community can benefit from putting some thought and effort into the built environment. The area was once a dumping site, but once the community cleaned it up and created the trail, many local residents are finding that it's a safe place to walk or ride their bikes. The Meade County High School track team practices on it.

Paving the first mile is only the first phase of a long project. In the next two to three years, there are plans to extend the path along the streambed and then up the hill, making it a challenging course. In the third phase of the project, Route 933 will be closed except for local access, and the trail will be extended along the highway back into Meade-Olin Park.

"We've actually taken this beautiful asset in Meade County and we're going to have a long term plan for it and a useful purpose that's going to benefit this community," Bridge said. "That's where extension comes in. We're always doing community development. So we're proud to be a part of it and have enjoyed working with the city and county government and the chamber of commerce."

When mapping and identification are completed, information about the trees along the trail will be posted on Meade County extension's Web site