MOUNT MORRIS – The Sycamore Room inside of the Lodge at White Pines Resort is headed for expansion, and not just in size.
It also will undergo major technology upgrades, and offer more than it ever has before. The cozy theater will not lose its nostalgic ambiance, however.
It has been nearly three decades since any structural changes have taken place in picturesque White Pines Forest State Park. As a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places, the landmark status is great for preservation, but has been difficult for growth, Beth Henderson, president and founder of White Pines Resort said at a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 6.
Nestled back in the state’s 385-acre forest, the lodge and cabins were built in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Henderson sought approval every chance she could, but was denied for decades, and most recently three years ago.
Her effort to grow the business and feed the needs of the public, while maintaining the integrity of its rich history, was arduous, but she refused to give up, Jerry Campagna, vice president of operations at WPR said, adding that her persistence and patience always served her and the community best. He also explained it was that same gumption nearly 30 years ago that gained Henderson privileges as the site’s IDNR Concessionaire when she went toe-to-toe with a major hotel chain that likewise sought the position.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and State Preservation Committee mutually gave the green light for the development to move forward. On-hand for the momentous occasion were Oregon Mayor Ken Williams and 45th District State Sen. Tim Bivins, representatives from the IDNR including Site Superintendent Jolyn Wise, members of area chambers of commerce, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism Cory Jobe, as well as representative of Blackhawk Waterways CVB.
Construction is slated for completion before the holiday season begins. Besides offering more seating, including a VIP section for stage productions, it will serve as a retreat center and classroom with upgraded audio and video equipment. Highland Community College is partnering with WPR to provide an offsite location for credit courses and other professional training programs.
Upon completion, Campagna said the interior and exterior design will be seamless, and it will offer all of the comforts of the office for business retreats, without the stuffy office environment.
“Disconnecting from the daily hustle and bustle and taking people out of that corporate setting, giving them the tranquil sights and sounds of the Pines, can generate ideas and build better bonds in business,” he said.
Jobe, the keynote speaker, discussed how vital WPR is for the state’s overall tourism industry, adding that this new experience will be a great service statewide.
Bivins also addressed the crowd, speaking on behalf of his personal appreciation of the state parks and support he has for the project.
“This December I’m even more thrilled to complete this expansion, which will provide our theatre productions with state of the art sound systems and lighting on a new stage,” Henderson said. “This will also now enable us to serve our WPR Retreat Center corporate clients with the type of modern presentation amenities that they would expect in a boardroom type environment – except they’ll be relaxing in a landmark status log lodge built in the 1930s.”
For more information regarding business retreats or to host your own event, please contact Jerry Campagna, WPR Vice President of Operations at 815-946-2400 ext. 102 or via email at [email protected]