Ferry Farm's Natural Environment

In prehistoric times, Ferry Farm was covered in old-growth forest and vegetation along the ancient banks of the Rappahannock River. For 10,000 years, American Indians seasonally hunted and trapped the rich diversity of animals, migratory waterfowl, and spawning fish found in these pristine environs.

Throughout history, the environment at Ferry Farm has changed greatly. Today, vestiges of the ancient and historic natural landscapes are still found in abundance. Magnificent trees of Sycamore, Red and White Oak, Black Walnut, Tulip Poplar, Magnolia, Beech, Elm, and Cedar – many nearly 100 years old – reach to the skies. George Washington’s diaries and letters make it apparent that trees were among his greatest delights. Several varieties of native cherry trees thrive on the property, reminding the visitor of the boy who grew to manhood here.

Habitat restoration projects are currently under way at Ferry Farm to eradicate invasive plant species while restoring native grasses and plants. This process encourages plants that are beneficial to wildlife, such as the many varieties of wildflowers that bloom in the bottomlands and on the drier high ground. These flowers provide essential nectar for dozens of butterfly and insect species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, as well as visual pleasure for the visitor.

White-tailed deer
White-tailed Deer
Photo by Daniel Fitzpatrick
Like young Washington, the keen-eyed visitor may also catch a glimpse of the many animals that make their home at Ferry Farm. Some of these include the White-tailed Deer, Red Fox, Grey Squirrel, Raccoon, Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Woodchuck, and Eastern Wild Turkey.

The diversity of habitat at Ferry Farm supplies the critical food and shelter needed by both migratory and year-round resident bird species. Spring migration brings waves of neo-tropical migrants including the Prothonotary Warbler, Black-throated Green Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Photo by Daniel Fitzpatrick
Warbler, and Blackpoll Warbler. Common summer residents include the Great Blue Heron, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriel, and Prairie Warbler. Cool temperatures usher in fall migration, when it is common to spot an American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk or Red-tailed Hawk hunting for an unsuspecting meal in the tall grasses or on the wooded slopes. The cold grip of winter seems not to affect the hardy winter residents that include the Bald Eagle, Eastern Bluebird, Winter Wren, and White-throated Sparrow.

Descending from the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rappahannock River flows unobstructed by manmade obstacles for 184 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. Ferry Farm, located just below the river’s “fall line,” is in a rich zone of tidal fresh water. Migratory shad and herring swim from the salt waters of the Chesapeake Bay upriver to spawn. Other fish found in these waters include Striped Bass, Yellow Perch and Channel Catfish. From the river’s headwaters to the southern limits of the Ferry Farm property, the Rappahannock River has been designated a “State Scenic River” by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. In March, 2005, George Washington's Ferry Farm was designated a Chesapeake Bay Gateway.

The Rappahannock River and the natural environment of Ferry Farm are as significant as the site’s history and archaeological resources in illustrating the life that young George Washington knew here.

Learn more about birding at Ferry Farm