MARATHON -- Known for its hardwood hammock, walking trails, historical museum and homes of original settlers, Crane Point Museum and Nature Center is a jewel some would like to polish.
Its leadership is seeking to make it an internationally-known center for conservation, education, and cultural research and resources.
A "back-to-the-future" move is afoot as the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, which owns the center, recently brought back Chuck Olson, the center's first executive director in 1986, as vice president of a still un-named capital campaign.
Olson will be tasked with creating an endowment and legacy that would secure Crane Point's financial future so that the center's manager and the land trust can focus on operations rather than funding concerns.
Olson said he believes much can be done to fulfill Crane Point's mission to preserve the natural environment of the Florida Keys and to educate residents and visitors about the natural and cultural history of the area. He pointed out that the virtually undisturbed Adderley House and its surroundings are unique in what they can tell us about life in the Keys a century ago.
"If we can attract funding, we can do a by-the-book restoration of the house and archival research into the original settlers there," said Olson, who lives in Fort Pierce. "We'll be able to relate the cultural history of the subsistence farmers, turtlers and fishermen who lived there, as well as determine what else is in the hammock that has yet to be fully explored."
In fact, human usage of the area dates back at least 700 years.
As Olson begins the center's fundraising campaign, he will be in the Keys virtually every week, bringing his career nearly full circle. As the land trust's first staff person, Olson is well-versed in the history and legacy involved in the initial land acquisition on the steps of the courthouse as the uncluttered bid of the then-called Florida Keys Land Trust was accepted over more generous corporate bids. Sandy Sprunt, John Edwards, Ross McKee and Bill Ford were among the Keys residents involved in the purchase of land, which ensured its conservation and preservation.
Former Keys resident J. Allison DeFoor II recruited Olson to the position of executive director in the mid-1980s, and as chairman of the board, DeFoor set out to build a board of directors and sell memberships. Around 117 members were on board when Olson first joined the team, and there were more than 2,000 members when the natural history museum opened on Earth Day in 1990. The children's museum opened a year later.
Just as there is a need for a capital campaign now to pay for needed improvements and attain conservation, educational and cultural research goals, Olson said it was largely a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation that enabled the original land acquisition. By appealing to the three local banks for loans, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council which offered a grant and a loan, Crane Point became a reality.
With a new capital campaign being developed, Olson said a committed group of visionaries hopes to partner with local entities such as the Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital and Keys educational marine programs to determine where to best focus and support efforts, such as on nearshore water quality and restoration.
Olson estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars are necessary to ensure a potential museum expansion and other enhancements as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars more to pursue cultural and environmental research projects.
Inasmuch as partnering with local banks could be on the horizon, Olson has an "in" with one already. Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust Chairman Jeff Smith is senior vice president/senior lender at First State Bank of the Florida Keys. Smith grew up in Marathon, having moved here in fifth grade. He said is committed to a capital campaign for Crane Point, saying simply Marathon is home.
"I grew up playing in the mangroves, building forts in the hammocks," he said.
A director on Crane Point's board for eight years now, Smith understood that with Olson back in South Florida after completing work in California, there was an opportunity to have him "finish what he started."
Smith said the fundraising campaign could kick off in the first quarter of 2014 -- possibly on Earth Day -- with a three-pronged approach for the museum, Crane House and Adderley House. He also said the zipline eco-tour project is on a parallel path with the new campaign.