What it is
Remember ropes courses, those weathered lines strung through the woods that give campgoers rug burn? The Forge, which claims to have the tallest one in North America, at 120 feet, takes the genre to the next level (literally), with an obstacle course that includes ziplines, climbing walls, and rappelling. The adventure park is a partnership between the suburb of Lemont and three Chicago businessmen, which means that even though you’ll have to pony up for the aerial activities, there’s no admission to hike, bike, or kayak on 260 of its 300 acres.
The folks behind it
Jeremie Bacon, CEO of the investment tech group Imagineer, teamed up with Chris Gladwin, founder of the big data companies Cleversafe and Ocient. The two bonded over a love of ultramarathons — you know, those races for people who think marathons are too short. Bartly Loethen, counsel at Tucker Ellis, completes the trio. They wanted to bring the types of adventure sports you can find in Colorado to Chicago, adjusted to our lack of, say, mountains and whitewater rapids. This is also a test run — Bacon says their goal is to build “30 parks in 30 years” across North America.
What to expect
• Craggy terrain The park runs along the Des Plaines River. It takes advantage of the unusual topography: The old Joliet-Lemont limestone quarries, which sit within its boundaries, are now filled by a natural spring and will be used for canoeing and other paddle sports. The complex also includes a wooded laser tag course and a mountain bike trail, as well as pump tracks — a series of small hills, or “rollers,” you can traverse without pedaling by generating momentum with your body positioning.
• Labyrinthine routes Five octagonal structures make up the main obstacle course, and you can follow 15 paths: Channel your inner Spidey on cargo nets, crawl through tunnels, and balance on rope bridges. Or zip over to 90-foot climbing walls. The challenge levels range from actually-this-is-my-first-rodeo to professional climber.
• Nods to Chicago The main tower is designed to look like the Willis Tower splitting apart. Just as you can see the burbs from the top of the skyscraper, Bacon says, you can see downtown Chicago from the top of this tower. Which is almost as adrenaline-boosting as having the Skydeck glass crack underfoot (as it did last summer).
• When COVID-19 did to the Forge what it’s done to everything else: paused it. A soft opening originally planned for May 25 was canceled; the launch is now slated for July 17.
• How much For the moment, founding annual memberships are $225 for adults and $185 for youths. When that deal is over (no expiration date yet), annual memberships will be $260 for adults and $200 for kids. Day passes are $70 and $55. (The park includes a child-friendly zone that mimics the course without actually getting 5- to 12-year-olds 120 feet into the air.) For now, to enforce social distancing, reservations are required; see forgeparks.com.
• ’Rona rules The Forge will have a protocol in place: Like everywhere else (we hope), visitors will have to stay six feet apart, with properly spaced lines marked on the ground in queues. No more than 10 people will be allowed on any attraction at a time, and the park will limit the overall crowd. Masks and under-helmet head coverings will be required. Before you enter, you will get a contactless temperature check. And bring your credit card: The Forge won’t accept cash for the time being.