DURHAM – What would you do with $1 million?

For some of us, it might involve building a home in a tropical paradise, but for Bob Crowley, who took the $1 million “Survivor” prize in 2008, the choice was someplace far less exotic – the woods of Durham, where he and his wife have just opened a retreat.

Maine Forest Yurts, a 100-acre retreat located next to Runaround Pond on the Durham-Pownal Road, features fully furnished yurts, the eco-friendly circular dwellings popular in Central Asia but catching on in America.

“Well, it’s funny, because the real reason is that we have owned land here for the past 30 years,” said Crowley on Monday, speaking from an airport in Arizona, where he had just wrapped up a weekend of “Survivor” style competition with fans of the show.

Crowley, 62, said Maine Forest Yurts is designed as a getaway for the adventurous types who want something a little more rustic than the Hilton. It combines his passion for the outdoors with a love for entertaining people. The retreat is situated close to area attractions, but “off the grid.”

Crowley and his wife Peggy have one prototype yurt built, along with a “ranger cabin,” both fully furnished with cooking facilities and well suited for long-term stays.

“Yurts are interesting and have a clever little design,” he said. “We’re planning on having six before it’s all said and done.”

With little advertising and without a proper sign to mark the business, Crowley said, the first two weeks of operation have been busier than expected.

“I was really surprised, but the response has been great,” said Crowley. “We’re already seeing repeat customers.”

According to the business website, rates are $125 per night Sunday through Thursday and $140 per night Friday and Saturday.

The retreat is a logical outlet for Crowley, who rose to fame in 2008 by winning the popular CBS reality show, “Survivor: Gabon.” A high school physics teacher in Gorham at the time, he was the oldest winner in the history of the program and a huge favorite among fans, which earned him an additional $100,000 in an online vote. A University of Southern Maine graduate, Crowley became a sensation statewide and was honored by then-Gov. John Baldacci with a “Bob Crowley Day.”

Since his triumph, Crowley has retired from teaching and devoted much of his time raising money for charity. He is planning to host a “Survivor”-style challenge at the retreat in September. Eighteen participants will compete, with all money raised going toward helping military veterans. His new charitable organization, the Durham Warriors, aims to create free housing for vets.

Crowley still lives in South Portland, but spends four nights a week in Durham working on a variety of projects at the retreat.

“We’re open now,” he said, “and excited.”

The first yurt at Maine Forest Yurts in Durham, owned by “Survivor: Gabon” winner Bob Crowley. The retreat is designed for the adventurous traveler.    
Bob Crowley competes in “Survivor: Gabon,” the reality TV show that aired in 2008. He won $1 million.

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