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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meet Me in the Park

Having a meeting in a state or national park immediately signals that the event will be different. It’s not in a

brand-name hotel next to the airport; it’s at a lodge in the wilderness. Meeting rooms don’t overlook a concrete jungle; they deliver views of forests and waterfalls. And attendees feel the difference.

“You’re greeted by the park and actual nature and the sounds of animals,” said Stephen Patton, accommodations manager for Bear Mountain Inn and Overlook Lodge at Bear Mountain State Park in New York. “Just placing someone in a different scene is going to change their overall motivation and how they feel. It kind of gives everyone a fresh start.”

Meeting planners can find great destinations for nature-fresh meetings in some of these state and national parks.


Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park will mark its 125th anniversary in 2015, and the park is gearing up for a yearlong celebration.
“Coming to the national park, that alone is great experience for attendees,” said Lisa Cesaro, public relations manager for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite. “You can get the best of both worlds: the beauty and activities
with comfortable lodging and Wi-Fi.”

In spring 2014, the park wrapped up a three-year, $10 million renovation of Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The lodge offers views of the dramatic Yosemite Falls, which has a drop of more than 2,400 feet. All 245 guest rooms were remodeled using eco-friendly materials, and the lobby and restrooms were also renovated. The lodge’s meeting space had already been updated, Cesaro said.

The Garden Terrace is the lodge’s largest event room, accommodating up to 200 people. Next to it is the Mountain Room Restaurant, which is open only for dinner, so it and its floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the falls are available to groups during the day. Although the restaurant doesn’t have a private dining area, it can accommodate
groups for meals, Cesaro said. The Cliff Room is also available for meetings.

Groups have no shortage of outdoor activities for recreation and team building. Rangers can lead groups on nature walks, stargazing tours and snowshoe hikes. The Night Prowl is a nighttime hike that allows people to get in touch with their senses and learn about nocturnal wildlife. Groups can even take introductory rock-climbing classes, reserve the lodge’s ice skating rink for lessons or go skiing at Badger Pass.

The Ansel Adams Gallery, which is still run by the famous photographer’s family, is about a mile from the lodge and does private group photographyclasses and tours, including In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams, which takes groups to where Adams shot some of his most popular photographs.

The lodge can also coordinate five-course dinners and wine-pairing events at the AAA Four-Diamond Ahwahnee Hotel, also about a mile from Yosemite Lodge. No matter where groups want to go, the park can tap its transportation department to provide charter buses and shuttles to get them there, Cesaro said.


Tennessee State Parks

Visitors to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee all have similar reactions: “You can’t even describe it until you see it,’” said Cassie Rapert, sales manager for Tennessee State Parks.

Tennessee State Parks manages 55 parks, 22 reception halls and six state park inns and conference centers. One of those is at Fall Creek Falls State Park, about two hours’ drive southeast of Nashville; the inn and conference center is undergoing a $10 million renovation. Remodels of the park’s 30 cabins were completed in late September. Work began in early November to renovate the inn’s 145 guest rooms, as well as the restaurant and conference space, which can accommodate up to 350 people.

Three flexible conference rooms can become one 3,600-square-foot space. Two smaller classrooms and a breakout area round out the inn’s 5,000 square feet of function space. The renovation will also convert an uncovered patio into conference space.

The park got its name from the 256-foot-drop Fall Creek Falls, but “there are hundreds of little waterfalls in the park,” Rapert said. Rangers lead groups on waterfall hikes and nature walks along 34 miles of trails. For team building, groups can do outdoor scavenger hunts and canoe races. ZIPStream, located in the park, offers team building in its aerial adventure course that features zip lines, rope bridges and other suspended, swinging
Rapert said Fall Creek Falls has always been a big destination for weddings, family reunions and church groups, but the state is making more effort to attract meetings, conferences and group business, including corporat markets and young professionals.
“We’ve really changed our focus, and as a result, business has picked up,” Rapert said, “and it’s business that we’ve never had before.”