Southwest of Myakka City and north of Myakka River State Park is the 191 acre Crowley Museum and Nature Center founded by William Jasper Crowley (1900 – 1976) and Edina Truchot (1899 – 1976) in 1974. John Crowley, Jasper’s grandfather applied for a homestead of 160 acres near Bayshore in 1884. By 1887, the Crowley family owned a large portion of land along Myakka Road and Clay Gully Road.
The Crowley’s worked as teachers, farmers, conservationists, musicians, gold-diggers, a bridge tender and an owner of a sawmill. Allen Crowley, Jasper’s son was the first superintendent of the Myakka State Park and eventually was the head of 11 state parks.
After getting his teaching degree from the University of Florida in 1931, Jasper began teaching at the Myakka one-room schoolhouse. He established the county’s first hot school lunch program. Students would bring vegetables from home and he would supply the meat from his farm. Soon, the students planted a vegetable garden in the schoolyard. Inheriting his father’s house, he kept three or four homeless boys in the house at all times. The boys worked the farm and tended the garden.
From the beginning, the land was recognized as a unique habitat. Even though the land was used to make a living, the beauty of the land was respected and preserved. Wanting to show how the pioneer settlers lived, he invited busloads of children to the farm. Once on the farm, he had the children interact with the many animals he had.
After reading an article in the column “A Bird of the Week” by Audubon President and founder Edina Truchot, he donated five acres to her. There she built a house and became the resident naturalist. Upon her death, she donated her home to the center. An avid fossil collector, she noticed unusual shells in the fill of her driveway and found the company and site where they had been excavated. It turned out the shells where several million years old and of many species. Many of the shells were preserved and recorded. Unfortunately, after her death, they were stolen.
As the local wildlife rehabilitator for several of the surrounding counties, she taught some 50,000 children in the field. She was the winner of numerous conservation awards from the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sears Roebuck Foundation, the Audubon and others.
For children today, there is the Children’s Discovery Path that is a 3/8 mile long nature hiking path that has five interactive discovery stations. The stations are Birds of Prey, the Gopher Tortoise, Spiders, and the Florida Panther. While on the path, explores can jump, climb, see, and feel what it is like to be one of these creatures.
The self-guided nature trail winds through the property from high and dry pine flatwoods, through the shady oak hammock, over the Maple Branch swamp and out to the edge of the expansive Tatum Sawgrass Marsh along the Myakka River. The walking conditions are pleasant and the wide trails are enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. There are three main parts to the trail:
Pine Level Trail:Starts right outside the Welcome Center door and is an authentic portion of the wagon trail pioneer settlers used.
The Boardwalk:This is the star attraction. It is a 1/2 mile Boardwalk that traverses Oak Hammock, Maple Branch Swamp, and the Tatum Sawgrass Marsh. Throughout the Boardwalk, there are benches that allow for rest and wildlife viewing. There are Willow, Sweet Gum, Maple, Hickory and Ash trees, ferns and flowering plants all along the Boardwalk.
Observation Tower:Birders love the two-story observation tower at the ender of the Boardwalk. As well, it provides a panoramic view of the marsh with the Myakka River in the distance. Red-winged Blackbirds enjoy the pristine environment and in the spring you can see otters playing in the creek under the tower. Towards the end of summer, at times, you can see a mother alligator and her young. Flying overhead are bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, osprey and other native birds.
There are many other programs at the center such as Pioneer Living where the museum exhibits a variety of historic objects. A one-room cabin which was typical of those built by the pioneers. The sugar cane mill used to make taffy. And the William H. Tatum two-story house built in 1889. Also offered are youth programs, adult programs, as well as guided group camping experiences.
Jasper and Edina where true stewards of the land with their philosophy “use half and leave half.” Crowley remains a center for natural and cultural history, as well as sustainable agriculture.
The center is open Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.