Randell Research Center at Pineland
In 1996, building on over twelve years of archaeological, ecological, and historical research and education in Southwest Florida, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida established the Randell Research Center (RRC) at Pineland as a permanent research and education facility. The RRC was made possible by a generous donation by Donald and Patricia Randell of over 50 acres of the internationally significant Pineland archaeological site, once a major town of the native Calusa Indians. The Pineland site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Lee County historical resource.
The mission of the RRC is to learn and teach the archaeology, history, and ecology of Southwest Florida. Public response has been enthusiastic and supportive, and the RRC's Calusa Heritage Trail (described below) is annually voted Best Tourist Attraction by readers of the Pine Island Eagle newspaper. Over 7,000 school children, citizens, and tourists visit the Trail annually. The site is also a designated stop on Lee County's Great Calusa Blueway, a marked canoe and kayak trail. A picnic area is available, as are handicap-accessible public restrooms, a teaching pavilion, and a book and gift shop.
The Pineland site is located on the northwestern shore of Pine Island at 13810 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, across the street from the Tarpon Lodge and Restaurant. The RRC's offices are located in the historic Ruby Gill House at 7450 Pineland Road, next door to the Pineland post office.
Archaeological | Historical significance
Pineland was a Calusa Indian town for over 1,500 years. Enormous shell mounds still overlook Pine Island Sound. Remains of many centuries of Indian village life blanket the old pastures and groves. Remnants of an ancient Calusa canal that reached 2.5 miles across Pine Island sweep through the complex. Sand burial mounds still stand in the woods. Historic structures of Florida's early pioneer period still exist. Native plants and animals characteristic of coastal hammocks, pinelands, wetlands, and shell mounds are abundant.
The Calusa Heritage Trail
Portions of the Pineland site are accessible to the public on the Calusa Heritage Trail, a 3,700-foot interpretive walking path that winds among and over the mounds, wetlands, and canal. The Trail includes museum-quality signs and wayside benches, as well as stairways to the top of both primary shell mounds, observation platforms atop the tallest mound, and a bridge and boardwalk over low-lying areas. Most of the trail is paved with reduced concrete, although portions are mulched. At the trailhead, a parking area accommodating 32 cars and two buses, and including two additional handicap parking spaces, provides access to an inclined walkway leading to an activity pavilion, wheelchair-accessible public restrooms, and a classroom and gift shop. The classroom and shop opened in January 2007. Since its inauguration in December 2004, the Calusa Heritage Trail has hosted more than 50,000 visitors, including families, school children, and tour groups.