Category: Success Stories
Twenty-three years ago, Gary Harpole had a vision to help grow the economy in his family’s hometown of Nebo, Illinois. Having traveled abroad, he saw Western Illinois with fresh eyes, appreciating the incredible beauty and tranquility of the area. He knew that people would fall in love with Pike and Calhoun County’s natural beauty - if they only had an opportunity to visit. To facilitate this, he launched Harpole’s Heartland Lodge as a hunting lodge and vacation destination. At the time, the concept of opening a rural hunting lodge seemed a little crazy but with an “If you build it, they will come” mentality, he went all-in, investing in his business and dream, and today, Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is a destination for over 20,000 people annually.
The Lodge Today
While, Harpole’s Heartland Lodge initially started as a resort and hunting lodge, it has grown and expanded so that now, the vacation and convention side of the business is much larger. They have a dining hall and four lodges, with four cabins currently being constructed. This has become a vacation destination with people coming for a romantic weekend, ATV trip with the family, reunions, and corporate retreats. With close proximity to attractions in Illinois and Missouri, the Lodge also serves as a vacation headquarters for those who wish to explore the Midwest and then return to somewhere peaceful and relaxing.
With around forty employees, they offer a unique vacation experience that can include a relaxing stay, dining, hunting, ATV excursions, and more. For those who enjoy exploring in an ATV, this is a one-of-a-kind resort where it is possible to walk out the front door, hop on an ATV, and go exploring. This concept is similar to ski-out lodges that have become popular in places like Colorado. For those who love to ATV, everything is in walking distance so once here, the day can be full of excitement, without the need to hop in the car or trailer the ATV to a second location.
People come from the region, nation, and world to vacation in this peaceful and tranquil setting. Weddings and corporate events are also incredibly popular with international companies bringing people in from Europe and Asia. National companies also find this to be a convenient destination, given its’ central location from the East and West Coasts. While the I-72 Corridor is a rural area, its location and proximity to major cities like St. Louis, is what makes the lodge so convenient for companies needing to bring people in from throughout the country. That same level of convenience is available for any company locating along the I-72 Corridor.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge has grown so significantly that they have been turning guests away due to being sold out. They have outgrown the current dining hall space as well. Bursting at the seams is a good thing for a growing business and to accommodate their growth, they are currently constructing private luxury cabins that are set to be complete this spring. They received financing assistance for the project from the Illinois Electric Cooperative who worked with the USDA on the financing package. Lodge owner, Gary Harpole, said, “For the new cabin project, Shawn helped us to become an Enterprise Zone to defer real estate taxes. Working with Shawn at the Illinois Electric Cooperative helped us to get a USDA Rural Development Loan to finance the development of the cabins. Their support made building the cabins possible.”
Though Mr. Harpole initially financed the Lodge through traditional financing, the pace at which they are growing demanded additional funding. This is good for business and also for the local economy. Once the new cabins are complete, more tourists will be able to come to the area. Ultimately, that is Mr. Harpole’s vision.
Growing the Local Economy
“We are about promoting local area businesses and attractions. Our vision is to leverage what we are doing here to help the community to grow. We want to get our guests more out in the community to spend money in Pike County and the surrounding area” said Harpole.
He long ago surpassed his personal goals for the Lodge. Now, what inspires Mr. Harpole to continue growing is the impact that he and the Lodge can make on the greater community. “The support of the community is my encouragement to keep going – a purpose bigger than ourselves. That purpose is to help the community and it’s beneficial when the community is encouraging of what you are doing. Their support is like a tailwind making things easier, since everyone is pushing you and encouraging you. That has been huge in our current and future growth.”
Mr. Harpole feels privileged to be in a position to make a positive impact on the community that he loves. Guests of the Lodge enjoy their stay, receive impeccable service, and benefit from the tranquil surroundings. Their enjoyment and the overall economic impact of the Lodge is a sign of incredible success and the fulfillment of a dream that began 23 years ago when young Harpole returned from Australia.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is an incredible example of the success businesses are having in the I-72 Corridor. We invite you to learn more about the Lodge, our area, and the opportunities available here.