A Gap in My Knowledge
Bailey’s Ravine at Ayers Gap, Franklin
If you just want to see the waterfall here, go here. This page is about the whole area and its trails.
First things first. Is this still a Nature Conservancy property? Who can tell? As far as I know it is, but the Nature Conservancy’s website is a fickle beast. It is constantly changing and their Connecticut preserves list is always in flux.
For years, this was unequivocally TNC land. But it’s no longer on their site. So what is it? Was it given to Franklin? I think lots of TNC land becomes a sort of partnership with the town it’s in or the land trust it works with. It’s all very confusing to say the least.
Okay, it’s only confusing for… probably one person: me. And you very most likely don’t care. So let’s just hike, shall we?
Oh, you thought the confusion ended with the property ownership? Nope. From the smallish hiker’s lot on route 207, there’s a trail that goes straight up and a trail that goes into the woods. We chose the one that goes into the woods.
Which led to a trail that went straight up, and one that continued down to a pleasant stream. We chose pleasant. You can do the same, but I’ll warn you – it’s sort of dumb to do that. Calvin and I followed the stream until for a while and then it abruptly turned 90-degrees to the right and… straight uphill.
The trail also peters out to a large degree. There are no blazers and if you actually go this way, you’ll often wonder why. As one who has hiked the entire length of this mystery trail, I can confidently say, “don’t you do the same.” There’s no point, unless you want a good hill workout for no reason.
Calvin, being the trusting son he is, never knew anything wasn’t quite right. He trudged up the super-steep hill (no real trail would follow this one’s path straight up) and thought it was a hoot. At the top, I followed the faint trail and instinct to get us back to the “real” white-blazed trail there that encircles the ravine.
We hit it right at a spot at the top of some very impressive cliffs above Bailey Brook. We peered down into the chasm before moving along the official trail.
Ahhhh, it was nice to be on the real trail. Blazes, cleared deadfall, a sense of purpose. Although, to be honest, I hadn’t really planned on doing this hike on this day, so my preparation was a bit lacking. I didn’t know how long the trail was and, oh yeah, I initially took the wrong trail… details like that.
(Fear not, I knew where I was and I knew how to get to where I would be going and I had sufficient water and snacks and all of that.)
As we neared the “top” end of the loop trail – where it crosses Bailey Brook – Calvin encountered an old rotting “bridge” in a swampy area. There was absolutely no need to traverse this thing, but Calvin is Calvin.
Okay then. If you liked that, kid, you’ll really like the way across Bailey Brook. I mean, of course we can find my safer and easier crossings, but I know my son…
I want to note, for Old Calvin reading this someday, that he is actually an appropriately cautious kid. I mean, these pictures here don’t show any dangerous situations at all – but I mean overall, in life. He’s not one of those crazy kids who likes to see if he can do flips off of couches or whatever. But he’s also not afraid to take calculated risks with an adult (always me, let’s be honest) there to help as needed.
I like that. Old Calvin, you were a good kid. I hope you’re doing well and still getting out there hiking the woods and not doing anything stupid.
As for young Calvin and me, we poked around the upper ravine for a while. It’s a really cool area and seems out of place in eastern Connecticut. Especially in Franklin, a town I think everyone associates with farms and fields and such.
We began the walk “down” the other side of the brook. I know there are “trails” that take hikers down the ravine itself, but we had had a very long day and were looking forward to the falls at the bottom and getting to the car at this point.
The trail on the eastern side of the brook is an old woods road. It belies the excitement of the nearby ravine. But at least it makes for quick going. Bailey’s Ravine is another one of those places where probably 90% of visitors never go beyond the falls near the parking area. In fact, as we were rumbling up the trail, we passed an older man who seemed quite surprised to see fellow hikers in the far northern reaches of the preserve. He looked like the type who makes that hike every weekend and probably never sees people up there. Happy to make him smile.
As we neared the falls area, we crossed paths with a few more people. The weird thing here is that if you park in the lot on route 207 and just want to see the falls, you need to walk eastward down the road and then up Ayer Road to the trailhead there. The scene is pastoral and quiet. You’d never guess that there’s a real ravine just into the woods. It’s pretty darn awesome, I must say. Calvin and I clambered over cliffs and jumped across rocks to get good views of the massive cliffs of Scotland Schist and the falls themselves.
We were impressed. (And again, here’s my page on the falls themselves.) We picked our way back out of the ravine and down to Ayer Road and back to our car. There are a few plaques along the short road walk, dedicated to those who protected this place and made our fun hike possible. The preserve was established in 1988 when it was purchased from Felice Marnicki. There is a plaque on the rock just east of the parking lot on 207 dedicated to John Ayer Trapper for whom the area is named: “First settler in the Town of Franklin lived near this spot as early as 1665. Erected by his descendants 1937.”
As we neared the car, I couldn’t help feeling like we missed something by taking the “wrong” path at the beginning of our hike, I felt compelled to drag the child up the steep incline on the western side of the brook to see what was going on up there. The child was displeased, but compliant.
I imagine many first time visitors who take this path straightaway are also displeased. The “trail” just goes straight up to reach to top of the cliffs right from the road. From there, it continues north to where Calvin and I found it earlier. I’d suggest you do this and not the roundabout way we took, but hey, if you want to get an extra half-mile or so of walking in, go for it.
Bailey’s Ravine at Ayers Gap is certainly one of the true gems of eastern Connecticut.
CTMQ’s Nature Conservancy Trails