Thursday, June 4, 2015

Landmark Park - Dothan, Alabama (Part One)


Description:  Landmark Park has a little bit of something for everyone.  There are historic buildings that show you what life in the Deep South used to be like.  There is a large wooded area with a boardwalk and other trails that help you get up close to nature.  The Interpretive Center houses displays about the wildlife as well as a planetarium.  The park is also home to the Alabama Museum of Agriculture.  As if all that wasn't enough there is also a awesome playground.

Location:  430 Landmark Drive in Dothan, Alabama. Dothan is in the southeastern part of Alabama about 30 miles west of the Georgia border, and 15 miles north of the Florida border.

Cost:  Admission to the park is $4 for anyone 13 years old or older.  $3 for anyone ages 3-12.  Free for children age 2 and younger. Admission to the planetarium inside the park is $2 per person, and free for anyone under age 3.

Operating Seasons and Hours:  Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 5:00.  On Sunday the hours are noon to 5:00.  The planetarium is only open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Official Website: https://www.landmarkparkdothan.com/

Date of Visit: Saturday, May 30, 2015


My family moved to Alabama a month ago.  We are here while my husband does some training at Fort Rucker.  His training should last less than 2 years.  I have a list of about a hundred places that I want to visit in the state so basically we need to go somewhere every weekend if we are going to see everything that I want to while we are here.

This past Saturday we decided we should check out a place that is a fairly close to home.  I'd heard many people mention Landmark Park, but I couldn't figure out if it was somewhere my family would enjoy.  I looked up the park's website, but it didn't really explain what to expect.  The website mentioned things like a living history farm, wetlands exhibits, an agricultural museum, a planetarium, and a play ground among other things.  I just couldn't figure out how all those things worked together.

I didn't want to pay the park's entrance fee and then have my kids hate the place.  Fortunately I learned that Landmark Park participates in the Blue Star Museum program.  That means military members and their families can visit it during the summer without having to pay the entrance fee.  So that bumped Landmark Park up to the top of my list of places to visit.

The place seemed amazing right from the start of our visit.  We turned off of a busy divided highway onto a red dirt road surrounded by a dense wooded area.  The road went through the trees for a few hundred feet before entering a large clearing.  We paused for a minute at the entrance booth while my husband showed his Military ID, and then we found a place to park.

We were parked right next to some old buildings so we stopped to check those out first.  The first two buildings were old general stores.  They had modern things to buy mixed in with displays of what would have been available 100 years ago.  The third building was an old school house.
The fourth building was an old church.
We were able to go into each building.  My kids thought the church was pretty cool.
After checking out the buildings we decided to walk down to the Interpretive Center.  On the map the Interpretive Center appeared to be in a clearing, but really it was nestled in the woods.  I've never seen a building that seemed to be so much apart of nature.  It seemed like it grew in the woods along with the trees.
The woods around the building felt almost enchanted.  There were lamp posts along the path, and I remarked that they reminded me of the lamp post in Narnia.
I was a little disappointed about the displays inside the interpretive center.  There were about 4 empty display cases and only two that held anything.  One was a display about Wiregrass.  Dothan is in the middle of what is known as the Wiregrass region.  However, there are very few places where Wireglass actually grows anymore. The grass didn't hold up very well against modern farming practices.  

The other display was this one that contained a snake, two turtles, and two fish.  My son loves turtles so he was happy, but I was unimpressed.  This Interpretive Center seemed to be lacking in things to interpret.     
There is a planetarium inside the Interpretive Center.  It cost $2 per person, and wasn't part of the Blue Star Program.  My kids didn't seem to be in the mood to sit still so I decided to save the planetarium for another visit  The kids lost interest inside the building, and so we were soon back outside.

We decided to check out the boardwalk.  Again the map was rather misleading - but in a good way.  The little picture of the boardwalk had very few trees around it.  I'd assumed we were going to be baking in the sun all day.  Instead the boardwalk was completely covered by trees.  In fact, the boardwalk took us through what is known as a wooded wetland.  Along the boardwalk were little huts that held exhibits detailing the plants and animals in the wetland.
The first one we came to had actual live snakes inside of it.  I began to understand why the interpretive center hadn't had as many exhibits as I'd expected. 
Later exhibits held stuffed animals.  Even though the animals weren't alive anymore, they were still fun to look at.
Walking along the boardwalk was fun in and of itself.  We are new to the South and so seeing so many trees so close together is still very novel to us.  We also appreciated that we didn't have to worry about our kids wandering off and getting lost.
At one point we looked down and saw a snake laying on some dead leafs below the boardwalk.  My husband and I have never seen any wild snakes other than little garden snakes, so this was very cool for us.
Later we passed over a stream and saw turtles swimming in the water.  At first we just saw a little box turtle.  A few minutes later we saw a medium sized turtle.  And then a large turtle swam out from under the boardwalk.  The turtles entertained all of us.  One of my daughters kept saying, "This is the best zoo ever!" We tried to explain to her that this was even better than a zoo because none of these animals were in cages.
Like I said, my son loves turtles.  Here is a little video of the large and small turtles swimming around in the water.  You can hear my son repeating "turtle" over and over.
video
The boardwalk was in a big loop and soon we were back to the Interpretive Center.  We decided to have a picnic on the tables near the center.  My husband ran back to the car while I stayed with the kids.  When he came back he told everyone to eat their lunch, and then we would have a surprise treat.  He was so excited to show us the treat.  He'd bought three sodas in old fashioned glass bottles from the country store.  
Can I just say that my husband is the best?  Going on adventures with our kids is so easy when he is around.  Check out this awesomeness.  He has our daughter on his shoulders, he's carrying our little cooler, and he has TWO back packs on his back.
He took care of running everything back to the car while I walked over to the Living History Farm with the older three kids.  All the kids were excited to check out the farm animals. Our oldest daughter is obsessed with farm animals.  She wants to be a "farm girl" when she grows up.  I keep asking her if she wants to get involved with things like 4H so she can learn how to be a farmer and she always tells me, "I already know how."
She loves pigs so she was really happy when this pig got up and came over to her.  My husband met up with us and my daughter kept telling him about the pig that came to see her.
Our son kept wanting to go back into the woods to see the turtles so we wandered back in there for a while.  The map said that we could see a beaver lodge and dam, but when we got to those areas there were too many bushes and trees in the way to really see anything.  We were able to see this large tree stump.  It started growing in approximately the year 1056 and was cut down in about 1970.  There were little cards stuck to it that showed how big the tree was when certain historical events happened.
Then it was back up to the farm area.  By this time the day was getting to be pretty hot and the kids were starting to get tired.
We started heading back to the car.  We passed the farm house so we stopped there, and looked in the little rooms inside of it. This house belonged to the Waddell family of Dothan.  The family donated the house and several of the other buildings to Landmark Park.  The buildings were moved to this location in December of 1978.  They were some of the first features of Landmark Park.   
Earlier my daughter had seen a playground on the park's map.  I'd promised her that we'd go there. So we went there instead of going straight to the car.  We didn't stay there very long though.  It was almost 2:00, and getting very hot.  I promised my kids that we would come back another day, and play at the park first before the day got too hot.
When we do come back I want to check out the Agricultural Museum as well as the Activity Barn.  I also want to take my kids to a show at the planetarium.   I'll do a second post about those things.

Recommendation: Landmark Park is a great place to spend they day learning about life in the South. The buildings will help you understand how people used to live, and the nature areas will show you what kind of wildlife is currently living in the woods.

Directions:  Landmark Park is located in the Northeast part of Dothan, Alabama on the west side of Highway 431.  There are a few signs for the park along Highway 431, but the actual sign for the park is rather small.  We missed the turn and had to turn around.  Overall the park is very easy to find.

Additional Information:  There are over 300 Museums that participate in the Blue Star Museum program.  Through this program military families can receive free admission to the museums from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Click here to view participating museums all over the country.

Places Nearby: The Dothan Area Botanical Gardens are just up the road from Landmark Park. Admission to that place is $5 per person.  However, they do accept any donation if you can't pay the $5 fee. Children under age 12 get in for free.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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