Imagine this: You’re perched on a small platform more than 70 feet in the air. In the distance, you can see the Chicago skyline surrounded by a vast network of cities, rivers and canals. To get to this dizzying height, you just climbed, rung by rung, through a colossal aerial challenge course featuring more than 50 exhilarating rope elements, any one of which wouldn’t look out of place on TV’s “American Ninja Warrior.” Your reward for reaching this summit is a chance to zip line across a 1,100-foot line, reaching staggering speeds of up to 30 mph.
This is Skyscraper Tower, the single-tallest climbing, rappelling and zip lining tower structure in the United States, and just one of the countless adventures you’ll find at The Forge: Lemont Quarries, a one-of-a-kind adventure park located less than a mile off of The Historic Route 66.
By now, you’ve likely heard about The Forge, or run across some jaw-dropping photos of the new facility that have been flying around social media. The 300-plus-acre, state-of-the-art outdoor adventure park, located less than an hour from Chicago and mere minutes from downtown Lemont, is the product of a multiyear development of the Heritage Quarries Recreational Area.
The onetime limestone mine has been transformed through a pioneering public-private partnership between the Village of Lemont, Lemont Township and The Forge Co., resulting in an unparalleled park that seamlessly blends technology, ecology and good, old-fashioned outdoor recreation.
This oasis for outdoor activity features the three tallest ropes towers in the nation, the single largest outdoor adventure course in North America, the longest and tallest zip lines in the Tri-State area, as well as the region’s most advanced outdoor skills course and pump tracks for BMX and mountain bike enthusiasts.
Jeremie Bacon, Forge co-founder and a Lemont resident, said the idea for the park had been brewing for more than a decade.
“I started talking with a handful of people back in 2006, even before I moved to Lemont, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a ropes course out here in the quarries.’ So, for me, the connection to this place goes all the way back to the mid-2000s, but Chris [Gladwin] and I really began conceptualizing and planning what The Forge would become in late 2015,” Bacon said.
It may come as a surprise that this purpose-driven, outdoor adventure park is the combined dream of Bacon and Gladwin, two veterans of the Chicago information technology and software development scene, and Bart Loethen, a Chicago-based attorney, but all three co-founders share a deep love for outdoor recreation.
“Jeremie used to be a sponsored triathlete, and I had been doing a lot of adventure races and orienteering,” Gladwin said. “We both got into ultramarathons at the same time and did some races together. That’s really when we started developing the idea for what would become The Forge.”
From Day 1, the co-founders were committed to creating a community-focused, authentic outdoor experience catering to all ages and abilities. Many trails and access points in the park are ADA accessible, ensuring guests with mobility challenges have access to freely explore the park.
Forge also features an ADA-accessible kayak and canoe ramp, and an entire series of aerial challenge courses and zip line components that enable participants with mobility challenges the opportunity to participate in the Forge’s thrilling activities at height. A harness-and-belay guidewire system, one of only three of its kind in the U.S., enables guests with mobility challenges the opportunity to experience part of the park’s signature piece, the Eight Towers Adventure, and the thrill of a 1,000-foot zip line ride over a scenic 12-acre lake.
The minds behind The Forge also know that now, more than ever, parents are looking for fun and family-friendly outdoor activities. With this in mind, they developed the Two Towers Kids Zone, a scaled down version of the Eight Towers Adventure, featuring a netted challenge course with large climbing nets, zip lines and balance beams. Other kid-approved activities at the Forge include Augmented Reality Adventure Games and Tactical Outdoor Laser Tag.
“When we first sat down and started designing the park, we said we wanted this to be a place where anyone from age 3 to 93 could feel comfortable and part of a community,” Bacon said.
At The Forge, guests only pay for special events and programs (concerts, seasonal events, group classes) and activities requiring waivers. This means that, unlike many other parks, parents or guardians don’t need a pass just to watch the kids or to soak in the scenery.
“We did a lot of market studies when we were first looking at building the park, and one of the things we found is that people have a near universal desire to get outside and do stuff,” Gladwin said. “I remember when I was in high school and I used to jog around my neighborhood, people would stare at me like, what is that? Are you running? Things have really changed since then. There’s a general understanding of fitness and a desire to participate in outdoor recreation, and that’s only been increasing in recent years.”
“The aerial adventure courses, the mountain biking trails, the pump tracks, the paddle sports, even the digital activities, they were designed to cater to everyone from your everyday adventurers, the people that just live for outdoor activities, to novices that are looking to take their first steps into this world,” Bacon said. “We built the park around three pillars: exhilarate, educate and entertain. We see our outdoor education programming as connecting the dots between the entertainment, like the concerts and film screenings we have planned for the future, and all the great adventure activities.”
Whether you’re looking to just grab a healthful snack at The Foundry, the Forge’s on-site open concept dining area, and enjoy the park’s scenic conservation efforts or if you’re ready to face the monumental 10-acre Eight Towers Adventure Course head on, there’s a new adventure awaiting everyone in the quarries of Lemont.
The Forge: Lemont Quarries is at 1001 Main St. in Lemont. For information on park hours, day passes, single activity passes and memberships, go to www.forgeparks.com.