Cow Wranglers and Chicken Handlers

The Silver River Museum is a gem tucked away within the Silver Springs State Park. Visitors are surprised to find us here and tell us we are one of the best small museums they’ve visited. They are even more impressed to learn we are part of Marion County Public Schools with a small budget and staff.

During a normal year (and we can’t wait for those to return), we see about 10,000 students for field trips and the museum is open to the public each weekend. “How do you do it?” they ask. “Easy,” we say, “with volunteers!”

Volunteers are the unspoken heroes across our community and we can’t thank them enough. Here at the museum we could not fulfill our mission without them. Over the last 30 years, legions of community-minded folks have donated their time, expertise and, more often than not, their own resources to help make the museum what it is today.

Starting in 1990 with the Boy Scouts of Troop 440, who began clearing the property of illegally dumped junk, right up to the retired school administrator who currently volunteers as a weekend docent, we simply could not operate without our volunteers.

The ways in which volunteers support the museum are as varied as their backgrounds, personalities and life stories. When recruiting (and we always need help), the easiest part for me is to simply describe all the possible ways in which they can get involved. There is literally something for everyone. A partial list includes (and yes, these are actual volunteer duties): first mate aboard our eco-tour boat the Timucuan, blacksmith, museum docent, historical reenactor (portraying a Florida pioneer in full costume), lab assistant working with archaeological collections, exhibits cleaner, gift shop attendant, gardener, handyman/carpenter, cow wrangler, chicken handler, librarian, envelope stuffer and office support.

Our volunteers are dedicated and generous. Each person has their own strengths and has something to offer. Some folks are extroverts and love a student audience. They will dress as an 1800s Florida “cow hunter” or pioneer woman  and entertain with stories of carving out a life on the frontier. Others prefer the quietness of our research library or to simply work alone in a garden or cleaning exhibits. Still others arrive each weekend to help staff the museum to greet visitors and answer questions.

In my 17 years here, I’ve met some truly fascinating folks who have adopted the museum as their cause. They’ve included retired teachers, school principals, school board members, nurses, librarians, foresters, law enforcement officials, authors, fire inspectors, college students, business owners, pilots, goldsmiths, carpenters and veterans.

Their collective efforts amount to tens of thousands of volunteer hours and untold amounts of saved money. We hope it is a mutual relationship with our volunteers forming friendships and enjoying their time with us. As we have said many times, Thank You! We could not do it without your help.

Scott Mitchell is the director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center. He has worked as a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and museum professional for the last 25 years.

The Silver River Museum is located at 1445 Northeast 58th Avenue and is open Saturday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Visit or call (352) 236-5401 for more information.

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