Entrepreneur Alum Creates Taste of Mountain Adventure in Midwest
By Liam Farrell
Jeremie Bacon M.P.S. ’16 (below) conceived of the idea for the Forge at Lemont Quarries, a Chicago-area outdoor aerial adventure park billed as the nation's largest, to bring some of the excitement of mountain recreation to the relatively flat 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 up 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.
Billed as the nation’s largest aerial adventure park, The Forge at Lemont Quarries is the Illinois-based invention of Jeremie Bacon M.P.S. ’16, a serial entrepreneur who wanted to raise the adrenaline of the mountain-less Midwest.
“We built something very, very unique,” Bacon said. “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 sort of outdoor activities available in his native Colorado.
“You didn’t have a lot of the same opportunities,” he said. “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 his 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 still attract 100,000 visitors between July and December last year.
In addition to expanding food, event and live music offerings, The Forge also recently 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.
Outside of its entertainment aspirations, The Forge 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—turning it into a place where visitors, not to mention Bacon himself., can connect with the revitalized landscape.
“He has the opportunity to do all the things that he loves to do–build a business, clear a trail, all that kind of stuff,” Gladwin said of his co-founder. “(Visitors) get to really challenge themselves and experience the outdoors. It’s wonderful to feel the kind of profound experience they are having.”
Bacon is in active conversations with numerous cities across the country about building new full-size parks, as well with some that are interested in “micro” versions to give people just a taste of adventure. He also still works in private equity and software, and said his Maryland education has helped him to stay rooted and interrogate his own ideas—to ask “questions most entrepreneurs forget to ask or never ask until it’s too late.”
“Sometimes we forget the basics,” Bacon said.
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