Chicagoland is home to one of the world’s most fantastic recreation destinations: The Forge: Lemont Quarries. Since opening in the summer of 2020, the 300-acre park has been named one of the top three new destinations in the United States. The park provides authentic, purpose driven outdoor experiences for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Activities include high & low ropes courses, ziplines, climbing walls, hiking & mountain bike trails, kayaking, laser tag, archery, fishing, axe-throwing, and bouldering. But that is not all. It also offers youth summer camps, festivals, workshops, educational programming, dining, running and biking races, and an outdoor concert venue. Adventure comes in endless forms at The Forge.

Located just outside Chicago, The Forge: Lemont Quarries is a recreational paradise built around previously derelict limestone quarries in the village of Lemont. It is the first of what will be many adventure parks built by The Forge Adventure Parks. While the park wins headlines as the largest and one of the top-rated aerial adventure courses in North America, receiving those kinds of accolades are not the company’s sole motivation. The Forge aims to do more than put Lemont onto the map for adventure seekers. The company endeavors to change the way people think about recreation by investing in communities and transforming disused and public spaces into celebrated destinations that drive long-term positive social and environmental impact.

The Forge utilizes a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership model which enables it to restore, conserve, and preserve the natural landscape while offering hundreds of thousands of visitors a unique place to play, learn, and challenge themselves. Since opening the Lemont Quarries location, The Forge has been recognized for investing heavily to create a positive social impact by accentuating the natural beauty and historical significance of the area for Chicagoland. Founders Jeremie Bacon, Chris Gladwin, and Bart Loethen are dedicated to community outreach, outdoor educational experiences, and local development. They share an ambitious vision to build adventure parks across North America and, eventually, the rest of the world.

The Forge Adventure Parks designs, builds, and operates recreation destinations. However, its key innovations lie in its Three E’s philosophy. “Our goal is to bring authentic indoor and outdoor recreation to the masses at a scale never seen before,” said Jeremie Bacon, co-founder of The Forge. “We want to create places that resonate with our visitors and make them want to return again and again. We accomplish this by crafting experiences that span the three core pillars of our vision: Exhilarate, Educate, and Entertain.”

The Three E’s are the cornerstone of The Forge’s innovative approach to business. “Exhilarate” encompasses the physicality of personal challenge by choice, athletics, and movement. “Educate” includes programming like outdoor classes based on state teaching standards, fairs, expos, and
environmental stewardship. “Entertain” encompasses food and beverage offerings, outdoor concerts, movies, festivals, races, and special events. “We look at the pillars as concentric circles on a canvas and try to create immersive real-world experiences where the circles overlap,” explained Bacon. “We make sure that each pillar influences every activity at the park and try to guide you through the customer journey in a way that helps you to experience the pillars without realizing it. That’s our biggest innovation. No one has done that before for outdoor recreation.”

This philosophy is demonstrated by one of the many activities at The Forge: Lemont Quarries. Explained Bacon: “The tallest climbing structure in our park looks like a post-apocalyptic Willis Tower whose individual towers are peeling apart like a banana. As you venture up the rear leaning structure, you can choose to feel the thrill of dangling over the edge of a 100-foot precipice. That’s the ‘exhilarating’ part. Standing atop the 85, 95, or 110-foot observation decks, you are rewarded with a view of the real Willis Tower and the Chicago skyline to the East. Looking North, South, and West, you can see the industrial corridor that flanks the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, numerous train lines, the entirety of the village of Lemont, and a large stretch of the historically significant Illinois & Michigan Canal. Specially placed placards relate the history of the sites, tricking you into learning something while having fun (Educate!). As for Entertain, you may reach the summit and bump into an artist painting a landscape or musicians performing songs or playing a concerto. You never know how we’ll surprise you at The Forge.”

The heart of this company is building meaningful public-private partnerships that benefit two kinds of communities: like-minded participants and the citizens living in and around the cities where The Forge operates. Using private capital, The Forge aims to resurrect dilapidated public spaces by transforming them into recreation destinations and productive business zones for towns and communities. City, community, and environmental leaders are consulted to determine how to reclaim and restore these spaces to transform them into assets that produce benefits for everyone. These partnerships are structured on agreements that protect the public’s interest while enabling private capital to invest in long-term projects.

“This form of partnership is a fabulous example of how everyone can win when public and private groups come together in a united effort that puts people before profit,” said Bacon.

Community participation and involvement are integral parts of The Forge’s business model. To further its cause, it established a nonprofit organization to benefit the parks and local communities. The Forge Charitable Adventures, a 501(c)3, exists to help improve the health of communities by restoring and preserving nature, promoting active stewardship of the environment, and providing access to outdoor education and recreation opportunities to people of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic circumstances.

“I love being stopped by a guest and seeing the happiness on their face as they tell me of their transformative experiences at the park,” said Bacon. “Seeing people overcome obstacles, push their limits, and conquer their fears is incredibly rewarding. It makes all the blood, sweat, and tears that I put into this business worth it.”

Adventure comes in endless forms.


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