February 17

‘Survivor’ winner’s new pursuit? Setting up yurt camps in forest

Crafty Bob Crowley buys an old horse farm in Durham, runs the camping business with his family and eyes a bevy of other projects.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

DURHAM — His commute is so short, he measures it in telephone poles – seven in all.

Today's poll: Camping

How would you prefer to camp?

Yurt

Tent

RV

None of the above

View Results

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Bob Crowley, well known from the “Survivor” TV show, and his wife, Peggy, are the proprietors of Maine Forest Yurts in Durham, where customers camp glamorously in updated versions of traditional nomadic homes.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Decorated with items from the woods, this yurt built by Bob Crowley and family is nestled in a part of their property.

Additional Photos Below

He built a house out of junk washed up on the beach, just to prove he could.

He once won a small fortune on national TV, but still digs through dumpsters looking for treasure – and finds it.

He is Bob Crowley, and he is the most interesting Mainer in the world.

“I spent my life trying to get paid to do fun things,” said Crowley, who won the CBS reality show “Survivor” in 2008. “I’ve been a lucky, lucky person. I keep my nose to the grindstone.”

And, at nearly 63 years old, Crowley shows few signs of slowing down.

He and his wife, Peggy, are now in the midst of a new phase as the proprietors of Maine Forest Yurts, where customers camp glamorously in updated versions of traditional nomadic homes.

Nestled in 105 acres of wooded land in Durham that the Crowleys spent 20 years acquiring, the business is a family affair that absorbs almost all of Crowley’s time, and in many ways is a natural extension of the pluck and hardiness that won him $1 million on national television.

On a rare afternoon spent indoors – snow was streaming through the trees, not exactly prime wood-cutting weather, he explained – Crowley ran through the litany of detours, diversions and schemes he’s chased over the years.

His stories wind and wend like the trails he cuts through the Durham woods, changing direction and camber, occasionally going in circles, only to come back to where he began.

Lean, bearded and affable, Crowley has had a varied career that has taken him onto boats and into the backcountry; on a federally sponsored hike from Old Orchard Beach to Bath looking for moths; into a 3,000-acre estate as a forest manager; and into the classroom as a physics teacher at Gorham High School.

There was the year he spent working at a plastic factory in Malden, Mass., making swizzle sticks and coffee stirrers to put himself through college. Or the time he almost ran booze between dry islands in Casco Bay but was hired to hunt for Eskimo graves in Labrador instead.

But his grandest pursuit yet began in August 2013 when Crowley stumbled on a foreclosed horse farm on Auburn Pownal Road in Durham.

The property’s previous owners, deeply in debt and with their mortgage under water, abandoned the compound of buildings, leaving it to be ravaged by vandals and copper thieves. Crowley discovered it, moved in without telling the bank that owned it, and began steps to buy the property.

The unauthorized habitation, and the fear that someone would discover his find and outbid him, worried Crowley more than his experience on “Survivor,” he said.

So did he get a good deal?

“No,” he said, smiling. “I got a disgusting deal.”

A mere seven telephone poles away – about a quarter-mile – from the 105 acres he had been buying in chunks since the 1980s, the farm is the last purchase that was made possible by Crowley’s “Survivor” winnings.

And although he had always planned to start the yurt campground on the land he owns nearby, he had no inkling that he would ever live so close.

The first yurt opened a year ago, and Crowley plans to clear space for as many as five more, he said. Different than traditional cabin rentals, the yurts mix the rustic with the luxurious, offering comfort and simplicity in one circular room.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Yurts have an unusual wall and roofing system and a dome that lets in light. The yurt is built on decks of hardwood.

  


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Today's poll: Camping

How would you prefer to camp?

Yurt

Tent

RV

None of the above

View Results