Bailey’s Ravine at Ayer’s Gap Preserve
80 acres in Franklin, CT
Parking: Small pull off at 291 Pond Rd, North Franklin, CT
The cliffs that overhang Bailey Brook harbor yet another natural wonder: a delicate fern that is known to exist in only five other locations across Connecticut. This lovely plant has found a refuge in the cool, moist recesses of the rock outcrops.
The fern is known as the spleenwort Asplenium montanum.
The preserve was purchased by the Nature Conservancy from Felice Marnicki on December 30th 1987 for $55,000. The property was dedicated to Helena E. Bailey-Spencer (wife of Lt Gov. Samuel R. Spencer) on July 15, 1989. Both women have plaques just off Ayers Rd near the trail entrance.
The lower waterfall in this area was known as the Water Nymph as a stop along the trolley line through Ayers Gap as it headed to Willimantic. The old trolley bed can be seen by crossing over the road and just down Under the Mountain Rd heading east through the marsh or at nearby Giddings Park.
There is also a plaque on the rock just east of the parking lot dedicated to John Ayer Trapper for whom the area is named: “JOHN AYER Trapper. First settler in the Town of Franklin, lived near this spot as early as 1665. Erected by his descendants, 1937.” John came from Haverhill, MA and bought 300 acres from the Mohegan chief Uncas. Ayer’s have lived in the area ever since running possibly the state’s oldest agricultural business. Including the brothers, John B. (dec. 2006) and Eugene L. Ayer (dec. 2002) mentioned in Peter Marteka’s 2001 article who were 10th generation descendants of John Ayer Trapper. In 2018, the farm celebrated it’s 350th Anniversary. A quote from Sarah Ayer stuck with me, she was speaking about the farm, but I think it applies nicely to Bailey’s Ravine as well:
“It’s more of a gift to be taken care of,” she explained. “The history of it astounds me, and the heritage of it has always been important to me. It’s always been such an amazing place to be.”
Youtube – My Winter Hike of Bailey’s Ravine
Peter Marteka (2008) – Ravine Is Home To The Spleenwort
Peter Marteka (2001) – Ravine Provides Scenic Views
Steve at CTMQ – Bailey’s Ravine at Ayer’s Gap
Auntie Beak’s Review – Ayers Gap and Baileys Ravine
“Connecticut Waterfalls: A Guide.” Connecticut Waterfalls: A Guide, by Russell Dunn, Countryman Press, 2013, p. 203.
Ralph Ginzburg (1987) – Crisis at the Top For Centuries Old Farm
The Nature Conservancy – Ayer’s Gap Preserve (dead link 12/2018)