Owen Chaidez spent his last day of the school year experiencing a sky-high lesson he and his parents never thought would be possible – out of his wheelchair and flying over the water and treetops for his first zip-lining experience at The Forge: Lemont Quarries in Lemont.
Owen’s dad and mom, Bob and Margaret Chaidez, were nervous when Owen told them he wanted to try ziplining.
“Owen has always had an adventurous spirit,” Margaret says. “And he never backs down from a challenge. He has been through many surgeries already because of his condition (Arthrogryposis) and there were another three surgeries scheduled for this summer. But we all decided to push back the surgeries and let him have his moment trying something he’s always wanted to do.”
Jeremie Bacon, co-owner of The Forge, spent considerable time and money when assisting with the designing, planning and construction of The Forge to assure the trails and access points were ADA accessible. He wanted to ensure guests with mobility challenges could freely move around the park, and also be safely hoisted and assisted with the aerial challenge courses and zipline options.
The staff has been trained by Chicago-area Experiential Systems Incorporated to make sure The Forge is inclusive and welcoming for all disabilities, whether sensory, emotional, cognitive or physical, and can include special harnesses, additional staff assistance and more.
With more than 300 wooded acres surrounding what was once a working rock quarry, now filled with water as a manmade lake, The Forge opened in July 2020, but with few visitors or fanfare because of the pandemic. The adventure destination had been planned and under construction since 2006 with a close working partnership with the Lemont Park Department.
“In July 2020, the Americans with Disabilities Act marked a 30th anniversary,” said Bacon, who has a daughter with a disability. “We never made money a concern with this project when it was being planned. We just wanted to make sure it was accessible to everyone so adventure-seekers like Owen could share the same feeling of freedom anyone has when they are ziplining.”
The Eight Towers Adventure is the largest aerial challenge course in the world and is the prized highlight of The Forge. At the center of the 10-acre adventure course are five stand-alone “Hex Towers,” interconnected by 2 miles of ziplines, which is what Owen enjoyed while safely harnessed and gliding through the air at 30 mph while more than 90 feet off the ground.
“This is something I never thought I would ever be able to do,” said Owen, 15, who just completed his freshman year at Downers Grove South High School. “It really felt like I was flying. Now, I can tell my friends about something I was able to accomplish that even they haven’t gotten to do yet, since this place is brand new and just opened.”
The Forge also features multiple rappelling stations and 299 high ropes course elements spread across the 15 aerial adventure trails. The Hex Towers are connected to the three tallest Ropes Course towers in the United States, all aptly named: East X Tower, West X Tower and Skyscraper Tower. Plus, it offers a designated fully netted, non-harnessed Kids Zone, mountain biking activities including skills & pump tracks, more than five miles of running, biking and walking trails on site and Paddle sport activities including kayaking and canoeing.
Bacon says during the busy summer days, as many as 1,200 guests snake their way through the obstacle courses and enjoy the adrenaline rush of the zipline towers.
How to book special accommodations
Guests who require special accommodations must contact the staff at The Forge at least seven days prior to a planned visit to ensure that proper staffing and equipment is available by calling (630) 326-3301 or visit forgeparks.com.
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