Reaching New Heights

Entrepreneur Creates Taste of Mountain Adventure in Midwest

Once buried in a century’s worth of trash and debris, a former abandoned quarry 30 miles outside Chicago today looks more like a home custom-built for Spider-Man.

Eight towers stick up like the masts of wrecked pirate ships, with miles of crisscrossing climbing ropes and zip lines offering visitors the chance to unleash their inner action star 120-feet in the air. If a spot on “American Ninja Warrior” doesn’t top your list of aspirations, then pick up a kayak paddle or hit the mountain bike trails.

Jeremie Bacon headshot

Billed as the nation’s largest aerial adventure park, The Forge at Lemont Quarries is the invention of Jeremie Bacon M.P.S. ’16, a serial entrepreneur who wanted to elevate the adrenaline of the mostly mountainless Midwest.

“We built something very, very unique,” Bacon says. “You are the engine. You are the machine. You are the thing that’s going to drive the excitement.”

The idea for The Forge was born about two decades ago, not long after Bacon, who has founded and led several software and investment companies, moved to Illinois and wondered if it would be possible to recreate the outdoor activities available in his native Colorado.

“You didn’t have a lot of the same opportunities,” he says. “Could we build the Walt Disney World of outdoor recreation?”

Bacon pitched the idea to the Village of Lemont in 2014 and got enough support to move forward with co-founders Chris Gladwin and Bart Loethen. A planned Memorial Day 2020 opening date was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ample outside and social distancing opportunities helped the park attract 100,000 guests between last July and December. Now they’re talking with cities across the country about building new full-size parks, as well “micro” versions that give people just a taste of adventure.

In addition to expanding food, event and live music offerings this summer, The Forge also opened a new “Drop-In Bike Park” that has more than 7 miles of trails for beginning, intermediate and experienced mountain bikers to test and expand their jumping skills.

The Forge also serves an environmental purpose. It’s located on old yellow dolomite mines that helped supply the rebuilding of Chicago after its legendary 1871 fire, and Bacon and his team are working to restore abandoned land once filled with refuse and invasive plants.

“We became the stewards of this place,” Bacon says.


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