Ferris Provincial Park

Ferris Provincial Park

It really is the generosity of people that make the world a better place. Long before I ever hiked on this trail, other people were here leaving their mark. A land donation from the Ferris family, plus purchases from surrounding land owners created a legacy for future generations to enjoy. A walk on the trails at Ferris Park reveals evidence a farming operation once existed here. Leaning wood fence posts with attached rusting woven wire and crumbled stone walls have long been consumed by forest regrowth. Occasionally hardware from an old structure resurfaces onto the pathway. The remnants we see today are reminders of the once thriving Ferris Sheep Farm.

The Trail

Within the park are 10 kilometers of hiking and biking trails and a suspension bridge over the Ranney Gorge. I followed the River Gorge Trail, an easy to walk 3.5 km loop.

The trail offered magnificent views of the Trent River Gorge, backdropped by colourful fall foliage across the river. I started the trail at 9 meters above the river and followed it down to the river’s edge where I reached the Sheepwash Picnic Area. Here, I was level to the surface of the Trent River and took in fantastic views. On the way back the trail travelled inland through meadows, bird observation posts and passed Ferris Park’s stone fences.

The Sheepwash

The Sheepwash

Sheep what?! Although it’s used as a boat launch today, in older days this site was a sheepwash. The gentle slope of the limestone shelf into the Trent River was a easy entry point for sheep. More than 100 years before being established as a park, farm owners herded their sheep here to be washed in the river before shearing. In winter, locals have skated out onto the ice, and in the early 1900’s cars were driven onto the frozen river.

Houseboats

The Trent River forms part of the Trent Severn Waterway, a historic 19th century military waterway linking rivers and lakes across Eastern Ontario’s countryside. The Ranney Falls river lock is just down river from the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge.  On summer days, families aboard houseboats can be seen making the passage through the canal system. Some families will travel its entire 386 km route traversing all 45 locks.

The Stone Fences

Rebuilt dry-stone fence
Stile steps built into the stone fence

Over 130 years ago, sheep and other similar animals were corralled inside 7 km of dry-stone fence boundaries. The stone fences crisscrossed the farmland, supplying a safe pasture for sheep to graze and keep predators out. Stiles built into the fence enabled farmers to climb over the stone wall rather then using a gate and risk losing sheep through the opening.

During a 10-year period in the summers of 2009 to 2018, dry-stone wall builders volunteered to restore a 100 meter section of the fence. Much of the original stone fence is still crumbled and obscured by overgrowth due to a century of trees taking root between the stones and seasonal freeze, thaw cycles.

Crumbled stone fence

The Suspension Bridge

Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge

The 100 meter long Ranney Gorge Bridge is suspended 9 meters above the Trent River at Ranney Falls. Stand anywhere along the bridge and take in views of the Ranney Falls and the Ranney Falls Generating Station to the north. Turn to the south and observe the limestone cliffs that extend 75 meters deep beneath the earth’s surface. Standing halfway across the gorge, I photographed the Trent River bounded by cliffside trees in fall colours.

Limestone cliffs along the Trent River

Lastly

The 218 hectare park is accessible all year round. The beauty of this former sheep farm changes each passing season and to the watchful hiker, architectural surprises might unearth themselves.

Thanks to the generous land donation made by the Ferris family in 1962, and work done by Friends of Ferris for keeping a well supported, litter free trail system. This park will remain a favourite day trip for years to come and I’m certain a spring visit will be in order.

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