Fern Cliff is home to tall cliffs and other rock formations encrusted with great masses of ferns. There’s only space for a car or two in the entrance lane, but I’ve never encountered anyone else here. Beyond the gate, a trail leads into the preserve, skirting the western property boundary and the yard of an adjacent residence. At a marker designating the site as a National Natural Landmark, the path veers from the boundary, past the ruins of a concrete block structure, and eventually begins to descend. In spring, the woods reverberate with the sound of warblers and other birds proclaiming their territorial rights.
The trail levels out briefly, and then turns abruptly to the right. Soon you’ll find yourself standing on a promontory of sorts, with steep drops in most directions. If recent weather has been warm and wet enough, the cliff face to your right usually sports a thick coat of ferns, and a spring trickles from the soggy soil at its base. Explore the top of the promontory, where polypody is common. A very steep “trail” – perhaps slide would be a better description – leads down through gaps in the rock to the base of the cliff; from there, you can make your way without benefit of trail through rich woods, and past old ruins, perhaps as far as Snake Creek. While ferns are certainly the main attraction here, other plants abound in the herb layer, including many wildflowers.
A sandstone quarry operated along the creek in the early 20th Century; some speculate that materials from the quarry went into the glass that made up the first iconic Coca-Cola bottle. In any case, the quarry is long closed – it has begun to fill in with sphagnum moss. While the fern experience will vary, as noted above, with temperature and moisture, there are plenty of other interesting things to see here, and the property is worth a visit at any time of year.
Directions: Putnam County. From Jackson X Walnut in Greencastle, just S of the courthouse square, W 4.1 miles on Walnut, which becomes 125 South. Left on 500W 2.9 miles to 375S. Right, then 0.8 miles to a gate on the right. Limited parking.
GPS: N 39 36.462 W 86 58.074