Saturday, May 17, 2014


After having taught physics for some 25 years at Gorham High School and then winning top prize on the 17th installment of CBS’s Survivor, one would think Robert “Bob” Crowley of Durham would be ready to sit back and enjoy the winnings with his wife Peggy. Of course, if you knew Mr. Crowley, then you would know that such a behavior is not of his nature.
Come venture with us into his family’s 110 acre woods and learn how this humble man and his family have turned a chased dream of more than 30 years, into a family affair that continues to enrich their community and our state by finding ways to give back to those less fortunate. How do the Crowleys do this, you may ask?  To answer this question DNA Photography spent a weekend in Durham with Mr. Crowley on his family’s property. After just a few short hours with him, we gained a deeper appreciation for his family and a clearer understanding of the power of a yurt.

Bob Crowley sits outside of one of the two yurts at Maine Forest Yurts.
So, before we get too deep into this profile, let us discuss what a yurt is. Now you may have heard of a yurt in the past but perhaps you’re still not entirely sure if it is something you eat or if you need to ward it off with bug repellent?  Let us ease your inquisitive mind. Yurts are Mongolian designed huts used now and during the reign of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan as mobile living quarters that have met the demanding lifestyle of the Asian nomads.  “It’s a cross between a teepee and a child’s playpen,” Mr. Crowley explained. “It has circular lattice work on the inside and a teepee stuck on top of it. They are very well suited for winter’s high winds and low temperatures.”

Well at this point you may now have started to ask yourself– what does a yurt have to do with Mr. Crowley? Well the same could be asked of Walt Disney’s connection with a certain cartoon mouse or Ansel Adam’s kindred relationship with his camera, or even perhaps, a freshly baked chocolate chips cookie’s pairing with a glass of milk. Clearly at this stage of Mr. Crowley’s life, and in regards to the solution of his family’s thirty-year-old dream, a yurt has everything to do with him.      
The Crowleys fell in love with the yurt concept – but not just for its nomadic benefits as you may have thought. No, the main draw was the structure’s ability to withstand the brutal winters of our Pine Tree State. This was and still is a big deal for the Crowleys, a family that has dealt with numerous red tape issues that previously slowed down their dream of owning and operating a campground. For thirty years Mr. Crowley and his wife slowly acquired land in Durham in hopes to one day use their property in a somewhat unique manner. And now after several years of hard work and determination, by all in the family (including their two dogs), the Crowleys have established Maine Forest Yurts (MFY).

What MFY offers to visitors is a unique camping experience that is unlike most campgrounds in the state. “Originally we were going to build a log cabin but due to heavy regulations we were not able to build (permanent structures) on the property,” Mr. Crowley said. This is where he said the non-permanent concept of the yurt helped open the door for his family to expand their vision. Their campground has obtained the town’s permission to put in a total of six yurts. The Crowleys plan on keeping four of the yurts isolated and placing two of them near each other, offering larger groups the chance to camp closer together.
Visitors of MFY can do a number of traditional outdoor Maine activities. “There are plenty of walking trails for people to check out and we also have two kayaks that people can use down on the pond,” he said. The pond he refers to is Roundabout Pond and MFY owns 1.4 miles of its shoreline. During the winter months the trails lend themselves to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing.

When DNA Photography visited MFY in early April we were greeted by Mr. Crowley and his four-wheeled Ranger. The hospitality was that of a multi-starred hotel with a unique forest-like twist. His smile was sincere and almost as large as the massive hands that engulfed ours during our handshake. We loaded the back of the gator and then headed up through the wintry trails, impassable at that time of the year by any four-door suburban. As we ventured deeper into the near-virgin woods it was quickly apparent why this campground was unique. There were no paved roads littered with 15x15 foot segregated sites off to the path’s shoulders. Traditional metal-rimmed fireplaces were not scattered about and we didn’t see one gray water dumping station. We remembered it feeling very tranquil as we continued to drive further and further away from the hustle of civilization. When we arrived at our isolated yurt, it was easy to see why people, coming from as far away as Boston, book with this outfit.
“If you Google-Earthed us you will see that we’re not that far removed from Portland,” he said as he hopped off the vehicle and into the slushy snow. “Being exposed to the natural environment has remained our biggest draw. Here you can get away in a heartbeat and be by yourself and relax in our Zen-spirited round buildings.”

We unloaded our gear into his 24-foot diameter yurt that sleeps six people comfortably. The structure was larger than we had envisioned and came furnished with two bunk beds in addition to a sofa bed, wood stove, oven, dining room table, and an environment-friendly outhouse. We were drawn to the rustic décor of the yurt’s interior and how Mr. Crowley had creatively made use of the natural resources found on his land. We were particularly fond of the unique rope system in which Mr. Crowley designed to raise and lower the few battery operated lanterns in the circular retreat. His handiwork had been seen by the world before when he gave fellow survivors a taste of his craftsmanship by creating, not one, but two, fake immunity idols which helped secure his spot in the reality show’s finale in 2008.

We unpacked and started saying what we thought were our goodbyes to Mr. Crowley, when he sat himself down on a wooden bench and made himself available for discussion. After he answered a few questions pertaining to his Survivor experience, he started telling us about the Durham Warrior Survival Challenge (DWSC)and what it did for veterans and other deserving groups.
The DWSC, which is held at MFY, molds itself closely after CBS’s Survivor – without the exotic location and million-dollar cash prize. This August marks the event’s second year. According to its website, 18 contestants from across the country competed last year in a four-day contest that ranged from physical obstacles, mental puzzles, and a fire building challenge.  The contestants were divided into three tribes and together shared reward along with the ill-fated tribal council meetings. Mr. Crowley said he is very proud of the involvement Peggy and he have had in a lot of fundraising events. Events that have raised money for veterans and other deserving groups, like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to stay in the yurt for a night. 

While Mr. Crowley has successfully brought a little bit of the Survivor spirit back to Maine he is often called upon by fundraising agents to help raise awareness and funds for various charities in need. “We just went to California to help raise money for breast cancer,” he said. “We, along with other people, have been involved in raising close to a million dollars for breast cancer, the American Red Cross and Portland’s Center for Grieving Children. Doing this has probably changed my life the most.”
If his Durham Warrior Survival Challenge and his participation in national fundraisers are not enough to convince people of his humanitarian ways, than perhaps his upcoming project with former Survivor members and Habitat for Humanity will change your mind.

It is refreshing to meet a person, who has dedicated so much of his time and effort on educating our youth, continuing to give back. Often when people become celebrities they lose their way. But if you ask those who know Mr. Crowley, they will say he is still the same person he has always been.  Despite winning more than $1 million dollars he has stayed his course and enjoys living a simple life.

His humbleness, wit and ability to tell an endless amount of entertaining stories, paired with his hard work ethic is only a small handful of reasons  why Mr. Crowley won a game that forces people to outwit, outlast and outplay your competitors. We thank “Bowtie Bob” and his family for their unique campground and ongoing humanitarian efforts.

1 comment:

  1. loved it! great info! I live right around the corner from MFY and hope to get over there and check it out for myself ASAP. :)