Gunpowder Nature Park Burlington, KY

Gunpowder Creek was an iconic rural stream of my childhood as it meandered through the rolling terrain of Boone County Kentucky, on its way to the Ohio River. It passed through the some of Northern Kentucky’s most productive and picturesque farmland. Two generations later, much of it weaves its way through suburbs. But thankfully, some greenspace has been set aside to preserve the wildness of this gem of a creek.

One of those preserves is Gunpowder Nature Preserve. It is a 122 acre property that is part of the Boone County Park System. The park is located on some of the former land of gentleman farmer George Sperti, a Cincinnati regional icon. He was an inventor extraordinaire, responsible for the development of the sunlamp, components of fluorescent lights, and Preparation-H; and in total held 127 patents. Sperti bought 84 acres here in 1932 and later added additional acreage. His farm, called Boonetucky Farm, eventually totaled 600 acres and was an extension of his scientific life. There he performed agricultural research including vitamin supplementation of cattle to improve the herd, as well as adding Vitamin D to milk. Boonetucky was nationally known for its champion cattle.

So this was a hike that married nature and history, something the photographer and I really enjoy.

From the parking lot the first part of the trail is a steady downhill stroll.

The trail is actually an improved old logging road through a relatively mature deciduous wood. With the thickness of the understory along the trail at this time of year, it was hard to appreciate the large trees reported to be there.

This immense tree was interesting. It suffered a wound from lightning and now displays damage to the heartwood by insects and fungi, and the telltale evidence of woodpecker foraging.

This is the classic wound of lightning, exposing a linear injury down the length of an otherwise healthy tree. Sometimes they heal, sometimes they don’t. With the destroyed heartwood, this tree will eventually succumb to the forces of wind.

To be honest, the photographer and I struggled to follow the map that we downloaded from the county’s website. We got to a point where the map showed the trail turning hard left at approximately 270 degrees, but the lay and quality of the path encouraged us to continue forward, which we did.

The reward for our chosen was route to meet this girl, Dixie Belle, and her human companion Jeff.

Sometimes on the trail you meet souls that you just understand. Such was the case here. Turns out that her human was also a outdoors blogger/vlogger, featuring local stream fishing. It was a great conversation and he shared some additional history on Sperti the sportsman. Just a chance encounter because we struggled with the map.

We continued on and descended into the Gunpowder Creek Valley. Eventually the trail went from gravel, to bare dirt, to dry creek bed.

Certainly could be a challenge with running water.

But soon we had our first exposure to the creek, and a tranquil favorite “fishing hole” of Mr. Sperti, which is seen in the title photo, looking east, and below, looking west, toward the creek’s mouth on the Ohio River.

From this point we started heading east, paralleling the stream, in a peaceful Sycamore laden floodplain. In the photo below, the third obvious tree trunk from the left displays “red bark phenomena”, a benign fungal condition that makes a tree’s bark, Sycamores in particular, appear a rusty red.

Soon the trail opened onto a mowed field that featured an amphitheater. The map listed it as “an informal amphitheater”, but it looked polished to us. We suspect that this area is used for gatherings or educational programs.

Here there was additional creek access that showed a narrower stream with some whitewater. We had observed a man fly fishing this stretch on our first pass which was on the hillside that overlooks this part of the valley.

Perhaps my biggest chuckle occurred here, where we saw the fly fishing equivalent of the “little library” – a “Flybrary”, where folks share fishing flies. I love the sense of community that outdoor folks so frequently demonstrate.

That is also seen here, when non-governmental groups work to help fund the improvement of facilities like Gunpowder Nature Preserve.

As we headed upstream we saw an interesting geologic transition where the floor of the stream went from typical Kentucky limestone to a clay shale. The photographer went outside her comfort zone to lean over the bluff to capture this transition. We apologize for the positional vertigo that this shot causes.

And then the payback began as we ascended the trail back to the van, over 200 feet uphill. We were pleased when we found our blogging colleague, Jeff Kennedy, still in the parking lot working on his blog. I would encourage you to visit his site which is listed in the links, especially the video titled “Sycamore on Gunpowder”.

As always, these hikes are more than the vistas. Often it is the close observations that strike you.

Early into the hike, as we headed down the logging road, we came upon a thriving colony of clover. I’m still trying to hone my clover identification skills as there are many species seen in our region, both native and non-natives, with the non-native Pink, Red, and Ladino being the most common ones. Cross pollination frequently occurs so there can be a lot of overlap in the physical characteristics. I would have to classify this one as Red Clover (yes Red Clover has a pink flower) due to the pale chevron on the leaflets and the number of flowers on the flower head. But the leaves are not supposed to be particularly hairy and these were. This variability is thought to be due to the cross pollination and a complicated process called genetic phenotype expression. The flower head, or inflorescence, is really a cluster of many smaller individual flowers.

We saw an assortment of other wildflowers along the path.

Deptford Pink – holds it flowers well above its leaves.

Yellow Sweet Clover – its seeds attract game birds like Ruffed Grouse.

Pointed Blue Eyed Grass – while it looks like the flower has six petals, it only has three. The other 3 are color matched sepals, the part of the plant that encases the flower bud before it blooms. This flower stem was poking up through a clump of sedge, a grass like plant. Its leaves were out of view. It is a very small flower measuring less than one half inch, but is strikingly pretty.

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil – the identifying characteristic is the five heart shaped flower petals. They can range from off white, as seen here, to bright yellow.

Bird’s Footed Trefoil – named for the shape of its seed structure, one of which can be seen in the lower left of this photo, these are frequently found along old roadsides as it was here.

Crown Vetch – this is a showy non-native that is now considered invasive in many regions, out competing native plants. With a dense root system it was originally introduced for erosion control on highway embankments. It also has positive features of fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil, and is a good forage for cattle. It however is toxic to horses.

This was our first busy butterfly day of the late spring, seeing 4 species:

Little Wood Satyr – found, as its name suggests, in the woods as we descended the trail.

Silvery Crescentspot – they use sunflowers as a larval host plant.

Pearl Crescent – sunning itself on a rock in the stream.

Aphrodite – of the Fritillary family, notice the proboscis used to get nectar from the flowers.

Lastly we saw this Fowler’s Toad, somewhat surprising on the steep hillside, as we climbed back up the grade. The pigmented blotches differentiates it from the American Toad.

In summary, our outing at Gunpowder Nature Preserve could be described as routine. But that is the beauty of hiking, even the routine is not routine. Here, there was the opportunity for close observation of the creek habitat – either from the stream-side, or from the stepping stones as you work your way in the creek bed. But also, you have the early summer wildflowers nurturing the pollinators – a dance that is always enjoyable to watch. And if you look closely, you will realize that it was a butterfly that you have not seen before. In this case however, perhaps the most enjoyable part was meeting another soul who, like us, has chosen to immerse himself in the outdoors in his retirement, and to share his love of nature with the world at large through blogging. As we conversed you could just feel the peace and joy that this endeavor, even with its self imposed deadlines, gives him. And to that I can relate. posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Location – 6750 Sperti Lane, Burlington KY 41005. Eighteen miles south of downtown Cincinnati.

Parking – paved lot for 10 cars.

Facilities – at the small picnic shelter at the trailhead.

Trail Conditions – gravel, bare dirt, and creek bed. Due to altitude change I would rate this as moderate.

Print Map Link –

Benches – none noted on the trail but amphitheater could provide seating.

Picnic Tables – several at the trailhead under the shelter.

Kids – due to the terrain change I would suggest kids 6 and over.

Dogs – allowed on a leash.

Suggested Paired Hikes – None.



  1. I just love the idea of a Flybrary, so unique and inclusive. True sportsmanship.

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