When circumstances forced a family to consider selling its tranquil family home, opportunity came knocking. Now, this getaway is gaining notice for its wedding parties, and retreats.
In 1984, Chris Ames and her husband bought property in Monroe Center, Ill., a sleepy town just south of Rockford. It was here that the couple built a log cabin home and raised their six children.
“There was nothing here but woods,” Ames says. “It was a great time. We kept the kids plenty busy. But it was a different lifestyle. There was a lot of outside time – they played in the woods, hiked, fished in the creek and rode horses. They even had a teepee. We always had a household full of kids.”
When the couple divorced in 2009, they faced a difficult decision on what to do with their tranquil property. “I cried about it,” Ames says. “I didn’t have it in my heart to sell the place. I felt there was something else that needed to be done here. I needed to turn this into something, as a way to remember those wonderful memories. I wanted to create an environment where people could enjoy themselves and reconnect with God.”
Ames bought out her ex-husband’s half of the home. She then teamed up with her brother, David, a builder, to turn her property into Kilbuck Creek, 6752 N. Kilbuck Road, a peaceful resort that hosts weddings, business retreats and other special events.
Before she made any moves, Ames sought approval from each of her six children, who range in age from 19 to 29.
“I wanted their input on what I was feeling in my heart,” she says. “They were on board with it. They have wonderful memories from living here, too, and they wanted to share it with others who could benefit from the natural surroundings. We’re blessed to have the opportunity to possibly change someone’s life.”
Kilbuck Creek, named after the waterway that snakes through the property, is nestled into 200 acres of forest. The story goes that Native Americans used to camp on the property, searching for arrowheads and waiting to hunt buffalo that roamed along the trail. Today, the landscape is much different.
“It’s a breathtaking canopy of forest and a long and winding road,” says marketing manager Brian Phillips. “You’re looking at trees that don’t look like they’re leading anywhere, and suddenly you find yourself staring at a beautiful resort. We’re a well-kept secret. It’s relaxing and inclusive. It’s a wonderful place to celebrate.”
The Kilbuck Lodge is an 8,500 square-foot property that has six bedrooms and plenty of space to sleep 40. There are common areas, a fireplace atrium and an entertainment room, ideal for sitting around a fire, playing pool or video games, or listening to music. The Gathering Hall is a 5,000 square-foot building with seating for 200 guests. The Hall is used for wedding receptions and other special events. There’s also an indoor pool and hot tub that’s open to guests year-round. Guests can bring in food or have meals catered. Yoga classes also are available. Every group that comes to Kilbuck has exclusive use of the property.
In addition to lodging, Kilbuck offers guests 4 miles of groomed walking trails, an outdoor fire pit, and the creek, which is stocked with hungry walleye, northern pike and catfish.
A majority of Kilbuck Creek’s business comes from wedding receptions, which draw clients from Chicago, DeKalb and Rockford. Last year, 15 weddings were held at Kilbuck; that number has already doubled early in 2015. The getaway also attracts busy business executives from northern Illinois and the Chicago suburbs. Kilbuck welcomes executive and church retreats, day outings and special events such as reunions, holiday gatherings, birthday parties and anniversary celebrations. All group outings must consist of a minimum of 10 guests.
Kilbuck Creek is all about getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are no televisions to be found on the property. Instead, guests swim, walk the trails, enjoy fellowship over a roaring fire or reconnect with nature and the many animals spotted around the property including eagles, beavers, whitetail deer and coyotes.
The Grove Church in Poplar Grove has hosted a women’s retreat at Kilbuck Creek every fall for the past several years. Between 50 and 60 guests enjoy worship services, guest speakers, planned meals, games and activities over the course of two days.
“It’s a real treasure tucked out here in the woods,” says Julie Ellis, leader of the women’s ministry. “It’s very peaceful and relaxing. Our goal is to get away from the rat race, and this is perfect. It’s so serene, and I love the staff. They’re professional, courteous and always go out of their way to make sure we have everything we need.”
The Kilbuck Creek staff is all about family. The core staff consists of 10 employees, along with others who are hired to help with special events. Most are related to Ames, and most of her children have worked there at some point. Her sister, Carin Demus, works there, and her daughter-in-law, Branigan Theden, is the wedding coordinator. One of Ames’ daughters recently hosted her own wedding reception at Kilbuck Creek. “We all have some connection to this place,” says Ames.
It was Ames’ brother, David, who built the log cabin home and gathering hall. David estimates he’s built 500 homes, but calls Kilbuck Creek some of his best work. “We started with a design plan, but Chris kept changing her mind as we went along,” he says, chuckling. “But it turned out great. This is a place you just have to see for yourself. People are in awe when they drive in here from the interstate. You get off the main road and suddenly you’re surrounded by wilderness. It’s amazing.”
Saws International Cutting Consultants, a Rockford-based company, has used Kilbuck Creek for one- or two-day planning retreats. The company has 15 people who take part in their quarterly meetings, some of whom travel from out of state. After meetings are over for the day, the group chats around a fire, plays pool and enjoys some music.
“It’s a gorgeous facility,” says Erica Baker, executive assistant. “It’s easier for us to go to a calm environment like Kilbuck Creek, where we don’t encounter a lot of distractions. The staff is very accommodating and the facility is very clean. I highly recommend Kilbuck Creek to any business looking for a retreat.”
Ames has high hopes for Kilbuck Creek. Long-term plans include building a wedding chapel, adding smaller, individual log cabins that would sleep two to eight guests, and adding benches to the walking trails. Kilbuck also hopes to bring more youth groups to the property.
Mostly, Ames just wants her guests to soak in the peaceful surroundings, much like she and her family did for many years.
“It’s a wonderful place to walk through the woods, clear your thoughts and reconnect,” says Ames, who lives down the road. “It’s so much different here than going to a hotel. There are no distractions.”
Phillips, who has worked at the resort for three years, says Ames’ passion permeates the property. “She has a good heart,” he says. “She carries the vision of Kilbuck Creek.”
Despite difficult circumstances, Ames is proud of what has become of her family home.
“There’s a real spirit of family here,” she says. “God heals all things, and we’re excited with what’s going on here. Everything happens for a reason. Starting this business was the best thing that could have ever happened for us. It makes my heart burst with joy.”