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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Heartland Nature Calls

Though it doesn’t have much in the way of mountain ranges or ocean shores, America’s heartland has plenty of scenic beauty and outdoor attractions to appeal to visitors of all kinds.

Whether doubling as meeting sites or located within a short distance of them, these Midwest locations may provide just the answer for planners looking for something different.

Starved Rock State Park

Oglesby, Illinois

Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park is a 2,600-acre stretch of forestland boasting waterfalls, canyons and active wildlife. A total of 18 natural canyons have been carved out of ancient sandstone bluffs, with 14 of them featuring waterfalls. Aficionados call the park a hiker’s paradise with its 13 miles of trails following the bluffs and overlooking the Illinois River. Open year-round, the trails offer a chance to take in everything from gushing falls in the spring to frozen “icefalls” in the winter.

Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center, built during the Great Depression and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers rustic appeal complemented by modern amenities. Its 69 guest rooms, some with original knotty pine paneling, are supplemented by 21 cabin rooms located on the property.

Meeting facilities include a 2,200-square-foot room with a capacity of 120 in classroom format and 200 theater style; two midsized rooms (one 684 square feet and one 513 square feet) seat up to 60 each, and two smaller rooms accommodate 14 to 20 each. A separate cabin handles groups of 12 to 25.

Of special interest to planners, creative team-building activities include a variety of scavenger hunts, many that incorporate the park’s history. Other activities are boat cruises on the Illinois River, canoeing, eagle-watching tours and guided hikes that can be customized to meet a group’s needs. Special guided trolley tours are also a popular option.

The park’s visitor center features a 400-gallon aquarium that displays area fish, an exhibit of stone tools once used by regional Native Americans and a model of a 17th-century fort.

Duluth Lakewalk

Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota’s Lakewalk is a seven-mile stretch along Lake Superior that makes for a great walk or bike ride. The asphalt and boardwalk surface serves equally well for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging workout. Typically, visitors start at Aerial Lift Bridge, a Duluth landmark, and watch for freighters and other ships passing through the harbor. A number of parks along the way offer spots for resting or picnicking.

In addition to the Lakewalk, Duluth offers an impressive array of outdoor attractions. There are 129 municipal parks, two 27-hole golf courses, 45 miles of snowmobile trails and nearly 30 miles of cross-country ski trails. Outdoor enthusiasts may also enjoy the eight self-guided hiking trails, the rock-climbing opportunities throughout the city and the North Shore Scenic Drive, which has been designated a National All-American Road.

The most expansive meeting facility is the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which offers more than 250,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. It features two ballrooms, 30 meeting rooms and 120,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Duluth offers more than 4,600 hotel rooms, and nearly a fourth of them are located within walking distance of the convention center. More than 600 are connected to the center by a climate-controlled skywalk system.

At the Holiday Inn and Suites, planners have access to 13 meeting rooms and 11,000 square feet of event space, along with 338 guest rooms. The Radisson Hotel Duluth Harborview, with 261 sleeping rooms, offers seven meeting rooms totaling 9,000 square feet. And the Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark has 230 guest rooms and 11 meeting rooms with 6,200 square feet of space.

Other attractions include scenic railroad rides, seaplane air tours by Lake Country Air Service and tours by kayak or bicycle from the Duluth Experience Tour Company. The Great Lakes Aquarium showcases 230 different species of fish and other aquatic life.