Dothan native Laura Stakelum, who grew up loving every trip to Landmark Park, has been named its executive director.
The board selected her in late June, after a nationwide search. She had earlier worked 10 years as public relations director for the park and six months as interim director.
There’s no doubt the park has been an important part of her life since childhood. Her mom recently found a timeline Stakelum made when she was about eight, highlighting all her key life events — birth, learning to walk, talking in complete sentences and camping at Landmark Park.
The park started in the 1970s as a way to preserve a bit of the city’s agriculture heritage from encroaching development. Once the city was surrounded by farmland, but as residential and industrial development grew, suddenly there was just one of the old farmhouses left — the Waddell house.
Preservationists arranged to move it to 135-acre plot of donated land on Highway 431 on the outskirts of the city and recreate an1890s farmstead around it. Today the farm grows heirloom crops and raises Piney Woods cows, Gulf Coast native sheep, Dominique chickens and red wattle hogs — all crops and livestock that would have been found in the 1890s Wiregrass. Sheep are sheared by hand while horses and mules pull the plows.
Landmark Park has been the state’s official museum of agriculture since the late 1990s.
But half the park is also devoted to natural history, with walking trails, board walks and birding sites offering a chance to stroll through the longleaf pines and see the wiregrass that gave the region its name.
The park also features a planetarium, old time drugstore with soda fountain, one-room schools, historic church playground and picnic facilities.
Stakelum fondly recalls summer camp, field trips and family outings to the park and that her dad, a master gardener, volunteered there before his death in 2016.
“I love being in nature,” Stakelum says. “I’m not super athletic, but I like to be in the woods, gardening or working around animals.”
After graduating from the University of South Alabama, she worked as managing editor of Mobile Bay Magazine and was the editor of its first annual Mobile Bay Bride publication. She has also worked as a freelance writer for Business Alabama Magazine.
“I enjoy experiencing the park every day, but also going into community and inviting them to come join us,” she says, noting that the park is privately owned but supported by city, county and state sources. “We exist because of generosity of community.”
And such a park is important, she says. It’s a tourist attraction for Dothan and a great location for quality family time. And while we tend to think of such locations as great for children, unplugging and being out in nature is valuable for adults, too.