Eric Boehm thought he knew what state
parks had to offer: leafy campgrounds, wooden picnic tables and, of
course, plenty of outdoor activities. Then, in April of this year,
as regional manager and meeting planner for Maryville, Tenn.-based
Clayton Homes, he helped organize a conference for a home-mortgage
company at Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama. “Our experience
was not at all what I expected,” he says. “I was really blown
What Boehm found was surprisingly
high-end accommodations, fully equipped meeting space and
resort-style recreation -- at bargain rates to boot.
Following is a sampling of state parks
that cater to planners and participants who appreciate a venue
that’s offbeat -- yet right on the beaten path.
Lake Guntersville State
(256) 571-5440, (800) 548-4553
“I spend half my life in hotels,”
Clayton Homes’ Eric Boehm notes, “and I can definitely say that the
rooms at Lake Guntersville were just as good as the Marriotts and
Hiltons I’ve stayed at.”
The park offers a variety of
accommodations at reasonable rates, including 20 chalets (starting
at $125 per night) on a bluff overlooking a 69,000-acre reservoir,
15 lakeside cottages (also from $125), and 112 rooms and suites
(from $96) at the sprawling Guntersville State Park Lodge.
In the lodge are eight meeting rooms,
most featuring wireless Internet and a full complement of A/V
resources, accommodating from 14 to 500 attendees.
Boehm’s group spent two days at the
park. On the first day, which was devoted to meetings, “we never
left the facility,” says Boehm. “We had everything we needed.” Day
two was spent enjoying the park’s recreational amenities, including
an 18-hole golf course, a beach complex, fishing and hiking.
Boehm was so impressed with the place
that he brought his own event, a sales managers’ meeting that he
plans twice a year, to the same location a few months later.
Hickory Knob State Resort Park
(864) 391-2450, (800) 491-1764
Louanne Ainsworth, convention planner
and chairperson for this year’s National Active and Retired Federal
Employees Association convention, took her group to Hickory Knob
State Resort Park this past April and was pleasantly surprised by
the site’s meeting facilities, accommodations and the wide range of
activities offered, such as tennis, archery and biking, all with
the picturesque backdrop of the 70,000-acre J. Strom Thurmond
Reservoir on the Savannah River.
The event completely broke with
precedent: It was first time the association had opted to meet
anywhere other than at a hotel. “In the past, we’ve had our
conventions at fairly upscale properties,” says Ainsworth. “But
when I learned that last year’s convention budget went over by
$5,000, I decided to look around for something more
Following an enthusiastic
recommendation from a colleague, Ainsworth decided to explore
Hickory Knob. “I wasn’t sure how well it would go over,” she
recalls, “but the meeting rooms, common areas in the lodge and
guest rooms were much nicer than we anticipated.”
During free time, participants enjoyed
activities in the spacious convention center area inside the lodge,
which was outfitted with TVs, Wi-Fi and pool tables. Outdoors,
attendees gladly spent their free time golfing, hiking or fishing
on the grounds.
For Ainsworth, one of the most
satisfying aspects of holding an event at the park was cost
savings. “The price of the rooms was approximately $60 Ñ at least
half of what we’ve paid in the past,” she reports. And while
maintaining the same modest registration fee, the planning
committee still managed to come in about $3,000 under budget. Some
of that extra revenue was generated by advertising sales for the
convention pamphlet and booths on the day of the event. “But with
the money saved on the price of a room,” Ainsworth adds, “attendees
could at least use that for gas.”
An added bonus: Complimentary Internet
access was installed this year in the park’s four meeting rooms,
which can hold from 40 to 200 people. All 70 rooms and 18 cabins
are now wired as well.
Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake
The 109-room Lodge at
Geneva-on-the-Lake, which opened in 2004 on the premises of Geneva
State Park, is the newest of the state’s park lodges. Its site is
secluded, yet not so remote as to deter an urban crowd.
“We’re just 100 yards from the shores
of Lake Erie, and an hour drive from downtown Cleveland,” says Ken
Hlavek, the property’s director of sales and marketing. The site
also is in the heart of Ohio’s wine country. “About 15 to 20
vineyards are within 20 minutes of us,” notes Hlavek.
The lodge caters to a luxe crowd by
offering upscale amenities not typically found at state parks.
Take, for example, its glass-enclosed indoor pool and hot tub
beneath cathedral ceilings, or the presence of massage therapists
on site. Wine tastings for groups of up to 16 people can take place
in the intimate Vintage Room.
Accommodations range from standard
doubles, which might run $89 per night during the off season, to
more luxurious rooms featuring Jacuzzi bathtubs, which can go for
$129 during nonpeak months. (Group rates are available for 10 or
Function space includes an
8,500-square-foot conference center with free wireless
Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge
(706) 265-8888, (800) 573-9656
An hour and a half north of Atlanta, in
the Chattahoochee National Forest of Dawsonville, Ga., Amicalola
Falls State Park offers its stunning 729-foot namesake cascade,
within walking distance of a 56-room lodge and conference
Like the state’s other six lodging
facilities on park grounds, Amicalola is geared specifically for
groups, according to Vicky Slack, regional director of sales for
Georgia State Park Lodges. Complete meeting packages include meals,
breaks, meeting rooms, basic A/V, sleeping rooms, taxes and
gratuities. Special services, such as welcome talks led by on-site
naturalists, are available for a nominal charge.
Standard rooms rent for $75 to $115,
depending on the time of year; in addition, 14 cottages are
available, starting at $80 for a one-bedroom.
The conference center features five
meeting rooms, the largest of which holds 250 for a reception. The
Maple Restaurant, which offers spectacular views of the North
Georgia Mountains from its glass-walled dining room, serves meals
for up to 150.
The best way to experience the park and
the falls is by trekking through the area that forms the southern
starting point of the 2,175-mile, Maine-bound Appalachian Trail.
Other activities include horseback riding, white-water rafting and
a ropes course.