The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is a program of the Marion County Public School system (MCPS). The museum is located within the Silver Springs State Park and works in close cooperation with the Florida Park Service. It is a unique and effective educational program. The museum serves as a model for other public school systems and exemplifies the strong commitment to education in Marion County. It is an exciting blend of Florida's natural and cultural history, and hands-on education.
Their Mission "The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center provides unique hands-on learning opportunities for Marion County Public Schools students, staff and the general public. Visitors learn about the cultural and natural history of Marion County, and the importance of protecting and conserving cultural and natural resources. Our primary mission is to educate Marion County Public School students about Florida history and ecology, and assist them in achieving the highest scholastic standards possible. Furthermore, we strive to promote good stewardship of our environment with the hope of providing a better tomorrow."
The museum began in 1987 when a Christa McAullife Fellowship was awarded to research the development of a museum and environmental education center within the public school system. The idea was met with strong support from the community. Local citizens, businesses, civic groups, the Marion County School Board, the Florida Legislature, the St. Johns River Water Management District, and other state agencies all helped to fund the museum. In 1991, the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center opened its doors to the students of Marion County. The initial complex consisted of the museum and classroom buildings. Through the years a second wing to the museum, lunch pavilion, research library, late 1800’s Pioneer “Cracker” Settlement, and a circa 1930 one-room schoolhouse used by African-American students during segregation were added. Recently, a wood-fired pottery kiln and two log cabins became part of the museum grounds.
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center offers classes to fourth and fifth grades from the Marion County Public Schools (MCPS) as well as, out-of-county, private and homeschool groups on a space available basis. Students visit the museum for a one day class trip and take part in a variety of exciting hands-on learning activities. The content of the field trips varies by grade level. Activities reinforce the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards concepts in social studies and science.
Fourth grade students participate in a hands-on curriculum in Florida History. Content is focused on prehistoric Indians, the arrival of Europeans in Florida, and the historic period during territorial times and early statehood. Activities include interactive guided tours of the museum, and replica pioneer “cracker” settlement.
Fifth grade students experience an interactive science curriculum that concentrates on swamp and river habitats. Content is focused on the adaptations displayed by plants and animals living in these wetland communities. Activities include an overview presented in a classroom setting, a visit to related exhibits in the museum (including an interactive exhibit on the Floridian Aquifer), an interpreted boat tour of the Silver River, and an eco-adventure conducted on the swamp boardwalk.
Don't miss the annual SILVER RIVER KNAP-IN AND STONE AGE ARTS FESTIVAL held at the Silver Springs State Park in late February each year. Expert flint knappers, archaeologists, potters, hide tanners, bow makers and other specialists in prehistoric skills gather from across the country to demonstrate. Vendors offer reproduction stone tools, raw stone, flint knapping tools, unique crafts, food and more. There are archery, tomahawk and atlatl dart throwing demonstrations each day. A flint knapping competition and on-going prehistoric skills demonstrations also take place. This event is one of the most unique and well-attended in the entire southeastern United States.
FLINT KNAPPING is the art of making stone tools by controlling how stone breaks in order to create specific shapes and sharp edges. Arrow and spear points, knives, axes, scrapers, drill bits and a variety of other tools can be made from flint (also called chert) by removing portions of the stone through various techniques. Before metalworking was developed, this craft was extremely important to everyday life for peoples of all cultures.
The Ocali Country Days Festival started in 1995 as a fundraiser for the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center and has become a very popular annual event. It takes place in early November. Visitors experience old time music, storytellers, and historical re-enactors portraying North Central Florida during the 1800's. Traditional crafts such as sugarcane syrup making, blacksmithing, quilting, spinning, woodworking, and more are demonstrated. Vendors also offer unique crafts and food for sale. While there, visitors may tour the Silver River Museum, ride on a jeep tram through the state park, tour a Civil War encampment, or meet Seminole Tribal members to learn about Native American culture in Florida.
Summer Adventures Day Camps are also offered. In 2018, the theme is Stone Age Tools, Pioneer Ingenuity, Modern Marvels. Activities will center on team-building games, fun crafts, and competitions between groups, all while learning about Florida history. Ice Age: tomahawk throws, archery, and archaeology dig. Pioneer life: explore the woods of Silver Springs State Park, campfire meal cooking and candle making. Modern times: boat rides and rocket launches. Learn about these camps and more.
While school is in session, on weekdays, the museum serves the school system and the grounds are closed to the public. On weekends, the museum is staffed by park service personnel and volunteers, and is open to the public. Additionally, throughout the year, the museum hosts various educational events and visitors have access to the research library with prior notice.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, Marion County Public Schools, Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors