Chicagoland’s parks are more than leafy green respites. In recent years, they’ve become a magnet for military and family reunions.
Mary Patchin, director of sales for Chicago Southland CVB, hesitates to estimate the number of parks in the behemoth area of 62 towns and villages her bureau represents. Those public green spaces with their picnic pavilions and barbecue pits are a big reason the area does a booming family reunion business, according to Patchin.
Of course, the Chicago suburbs have other merits. Chicago Southland and DuPage County, which is 20 miles west of downtown Chicago, can also tout accessibility via the web of interstate highways that intersect in America’s middle and two major airports, O’Hare International and Midway.
The suburbs also offer the varied accommodations reunions seek — from the no-frills limited-service to full-service properties happy to handle banquet and other group events.
DuPage County has more than 115 hotels and 16,000 guest rooms; Chicago Southland has more than 70 hotels.
But the parks are a big plus. A military planner favorite is Cantigny Park, in Wheaton, Ill., 500 acres that goes far beyond grass and trees, with two museums, a golf course and formal gardens.
The allure for military veterans is the park’s First Division Museum, first opened in 1960, and housed since 1992 in a modern building where the history of the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army is covered from the Revolution to Desert Storm. World War I trenches, landing craft for the invasion of Normandy during World War II and the jungles of Vietnam are there to explore. Outdoors, tanks and artillery line walkways leading to the museum.
A stop at the park is always part of the DuPage CVB’s familiarization trip for military meeting planners, and a visit there has been known to seal deals.
Said Lisa Lander, director of sales for the bureau: “One time, after we watched the video presentation about the park, a military planner turned to me and said, ‘I think I’m done.’” DuPage County won the bid for his reunion.
Cantigny was originally the estate of Col. Robert R. McCormick, who served in the 5th Field Artillery, 1st Division, during World War I and later became the editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. His home is now the park’s Robert R. McCormick Museum.
Realizing that the reunion meeting planners aren’t always aware of the free assistance a CVB can provide, both the Chicago Southland and DuPage County CVBs have done workshops for those markets. Last summer, the DuPage CVB partnered with the Reunion Friendly Network, a national organization that helps military groups plan their reunions, for a four-day event that showed military planners DuPage’s assets. Chicago Southland has two family reunion workshops each year.