Crane Point is one of those special places that is as peaceful and relaxing as it is educational and entertaining. Whenever people go there they resolve to return soon, but it is never soon enough.
Nearly 30,000 guests visit the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center each year, a unique American tropics preserve that is virtually invisible from the busy highway. Once you turn off U.S. 1 at mile marker 50, bayside, you enter an ancient tropical world of 63 acres filled with history, trails, wetlands, mangroves, gardens, critters, spectacular shorelines and views. You can get a sense of this places rich historical and environmental treasures by just pausing for a moment along a trail.
While the effects of Hurricane Wilma are no longer as evident, the cleanup and restoration continue, along with the removal of invasive species, upgrading of the grounds (which includes the replacement of damaged signs), and the ongoing preservation of archaeological sites and environmentally sensitive habitats.
You can walk the nature trails to learn about Keys native plants and animals and stop at the saltwater lagoon to observe a variety of Keys fish just below the surface. The hammock loop trail, part of which is an elevated boardwalk, is a perfect way to see some of the 160 species of native plants found in the hammock.
Kids can play on a pirate ship (in costume if they wish) or bravely probe the saltwater touch tank at the Childrens Activity Center. A working beehive lets them watch some local honey-makers at work, producing a treat that is sold in the gift shop.
The Museum of Natural History illustrates some colorful Keys inhabitants from the past, including Native American settlers, Spanish explorers, and more recent Keys pioneers, as well as the butterflies, tree snails, sea turtles, Key deer, and tropical fish that also call these islands home.
Crane Point has done an excellent job of preserving its history of human settlers back well over 700 years. Calusa Indians were probably the first residents, attracted by the source of fresh water and good fishing.
Down the trail, the Adderley Town Historic Site was once home to the first documented settlers, George and Olivia Adderley, who lived here from 1903 until 1950. Their Adderley House, made from burnt seashells, has survived for 100 years and is still standing. It is the oldest Keys house outside of Key West. Adderley Town was once a stop on Flaglers Overseas Railroad.
Walking along a shady walkway through a dense tropical forest, the Marathon Wild Bird Center is another must-see stop. Run by Kelly Grinter, their mission is the rescue and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned birds for eventual release into the wild.
Further down the trail is Crane Point itself, and a spectacular view of Florida Bay.
Francis and Mary Crane from Massachusetts purchased the land in 1950, back when the Middle Keys were home to around 600 people and a zillion mosquitoes. The Cranes added a short causeway over to Old Rachel Key where they built their home, one of the first elevated structures in the Keys. Today the Crane House is also undergoing a facelift.
The Cranes were ardent conservationists and horticulturists who worked to preserve the hammock and enhance it with flowering exotic trees and shrubs. Later, the Florida Keys Land Trust was created to save the Keys tropical woodlands. In 1989 the Trust purchased Crane Point, saving it from development as private homes and a shopping center. A couple years later the Museum of Natural History and the Florida Keys Childrens Museum were established there.