Women's Service at Pine Island Conservation Area, Merritt Island, Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14313A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help with landscaping, trail maintenance, and possible small construction projects
  • Learn the Prehistoric and Pioneer history of this important area
  • Visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge or Kennedy Space Center on day off 


  • Lodging in newly renovated 1888 house
  • All meals, vegetarian options always available
  • Staff-led programs 


DatesOct 26–Nov 1, 2014
StaffSuzanne Valencia

Trip Overview

The Trip

The Pine Island Conservation Area (PICA) is one of the first fossil sites recorded on Merritt Island in the 20th century. It consists of 879 acres on Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida, jointly owned by the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL) and the St. Johns Water Management District (SJWMD).

There are two distinct areas in Pine Island: Sams Site and the Sams Creek Fossil Site.

Sams Site is a multi-component site that spans from the Middle Archaic Period (5,000-3,500 BC) through the Malabar I Period (500 BC-AD 750), with an historic occupation dating from 1878 to the present. The prehistoric site consists of a scatter of material, mostly potsherds, some flakes of stone from making tools, a coquina grinding stone, and two spear points. From previous tests, it is known that there is a pattern suggesting individual homes (or family units) or areas where specific activities were happening. The site is unique for the coastal area as there are almost no shell mounds or areas that archaeologists call middens. The historic portion of the site is associated with the two houses and dates to the 1880s through 1911. Artifacts from this site included dishes and bottle fragments, square nails, and animal bones. 

Sams House 1 was constructed in 1875 in Eau Gallie by John H. Sams. After a crop failure, the house was moved in 1878 via the Indian River Lagoon to its present location. Some of the windows retain their original glass panes. The house originally sat upon pine piers that have been replaced with block. The interior of the house is a mixture of recent (1890s-1950s) improvements, including partially covering the walls with bead board panels and the installation of gas and electrical light fixtures. Square nails from its original construction can be seen on the exterior and interior of the house. This house has become a nature center with displays on Pine Island's past inhabitants.

Sams House 2 is a two-story wood frame vernacular-style house with an exterior façade of wooden drop siding. It was built on site around 1888 to accommodate the growing family. This house has been renovated -- the first floor is devoted to staff offices and the second floor serves as a dormitory for volunteers. A brand new building separate from the two houses contains public restrooms, additional showers, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a large screened porch.

The Sams Creek Fossil Site is located north of the Sams Site area. The fossil-bearing material was found in the bottom of Sams Creek, a large tidal creek system. The exact location of the deposit below surface or the size is unknown at this time. Interestingly, a fossil bone fragment ground into a pin was recovered from the archaeological site. Fossil remains include Mastodon, Giant Land Tortoise, Camel, Glyptodont, Horse, Mammoth, Giant Armadillo, Peccary, and Tapir. Wait until you see the history walkway near Sams House! 

The Project

Our work may consist of trail maintenance at PICA; maintenance of grounds, structures and exhibits at Sams House; landscaping and gardening at Sams House; and possible construction of small structures, such as wood rail fences and benches. As with all land agencies, budget and staff cuts for the EEL program have made it difficult to maintain our properties. We may be called upon to work at other EEL properites in Brevard County. And, as always, Sierra Club volunteers are ready and able to do whatever work is necessary. 


Day 1: We will gather at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 26 for introductions, orientation, and getting settled in before dinner at 6 p.m. We will go over our week's schedule and the possibilities of after-work and day-off activities. We will get our day packs ready to go with water, lunch, medical forms (the trip leader will give you a copy of yours), personal first-aid kit, any medications you may need for the day, camera, flower and/or bird books, gloves, and anything else you need for a day away from "home."

Days 2-3: Coffee will be ready at 6:30 a.m. The K-P crew will report at that time to have lunch fixings out and help with breakfast prep. We will eat our breakfast at 7:30 a.m., pack lunches, clean up the commissary, and be ready to go to work by 8:30 a.m. Vehicles will be provided if needed to get to our work site. If we are working around the Sams House grounds, we can walk.

Day 4: Today will be our day off. After eating breakfast and packing your lunch, you are free to sightsee. You will need your own transportation for this day. There are many attractions in the area, not the least of them is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center. There is also good birding at the Viera Wetlands.

Days 5-6: We will continue with our service work on the same schedule as days two and three.

Day 7: We will say our goodbyes after breakfast on Saturday, when the trip officially ends.



Getting There

Pine Island Conservation Area is accessible from either the Orlando International airport (MCO), about 45 miles away, or from Melbourne International Airport (MLB), about 33 miles away. Delta and US Air are the only flights out of MLB. Detailed directions will be given to approved participants.

Accommodations and Food

We will be housed in the newly renovated Sams House. The first floor is dedicated to staff offices, which are off-limits to us; however, we will have the use of the living area. The three bedrooms on the second floor have been outfitted especially for volunteers, with four bunk beds in each as well as small storage units, with hanging space and two drawers for each volunteer. Due to this configuration, the trip leader decided this would have to be a women's-only trip. There is only one bathroom on this floor, but there is a new out building, which contains visitor bathrooms as well as additional showers, a fully equipped kitchen, and a large screened porch. The porch is perfect for meetings and will also serve as our dining room.

The leader believes in eating lower on the food chain; however, meat will be available for breakfasts and lunches. Dinners will be vegetarian. Other diets or food restrictions can be accommodated if you discuss this with the leader.

Trip Difficulty

The work should be only moderately strenuous (no high altitude, no rock breaking). However, everyone will be encouraged to work to the level of her ability and endurance, and to take water and/or shade breaks when necessary. On all of this leader's trips, her primary concern is to work safely, then to have fun doing it, and lastly to accomplish a good job.

Equipment and Clothing

No camping gear is needed, but you will need to bring a pillow, sheets and blankets or a sleeping bag, and your own towels and toiletries. You will need work clothes that may get stained or torn -- fashion plates need not apply. Thrift stores are good places to get work clothes. After-work and/or day-off clothes can be anything in which you are comfortable. You will need a simple day pack for carrying water, hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, personal first-aid kit, camera, and whatever else you need to be comfortable for the day. A complete equipment list will be sent closer to the time of the trip.


The following websites are especially recommended:


Your volunteer leaders have a long-term dedication to the Sierra Club mission: "to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth." We hope to impart to you some of our love for this area and for the work of the Sierra Club. We believe that the Sierra Club's outings program provides an excellent opportunity for members to enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories and to learn about current concerns. While on this trip, you will be expected to share the local conservation issues from your area. Above all, we will have discussions on what each and every one of us can do to lessen our impact on the earth.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Suzanne Valencia has been leading local group outings since 1992 and went on her first national Sierra Club trip in 1997. Her love of the out of doors led her to becoming a national leader herself. She has led over 55 trips since 2001, from Florida to Colorado, New Mexico, California, Maryland, and Utah. Most of these were service trips. She loves sharing the wilderness experience with others and especially working to help in the National Parks and Refuges

Assistant Leader:

Gretchen Straw is a long-time Sierra Club member who has participated in multiple service trips, from Antietam to Puerto Rico. She assists on service trips helping to build the Pine Mountain Trail each fall; this trail is a segment of the Great Eastern Trail, a new long-distance trail paralleling the Appalachian Trail. Gretchen is an avid hiker and long-distance walker, recently completing the Tour du Mont Blanc.

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