Lorado Taft provides a retreat

By Libby John

Even in cold weather, Lorado Taft, NIU’s outdoor retreat center, is kept busy.

The environment and conference center, located 37 miles from NIU in Oregon, serves as an educational center for more than 7,000 school children per year, as well as for other groups.

“We don’t usually conduct the programming,” said Dale Hoppe, the director of Lorado Taft. “We just provide the facility for it.”

Local school children aren’t the only ones who use the facility for retreats. NIU groups, like the foreign language, adult continuing education and honors programs, also use the facility.

The honors program takes incoming freshmen to Lorado Taft before school starts to give them a chance to meet each other.

“It’s a stressful time for people because of going away to school,” said Jes Cisneros, assistant director of the University Honors Program. “The natural setting helps to smooth things out a bit.”

NIU has owned the facility since 1951 when the university was a state teachers college.

“It was used to train teachers to be able to teach outdoors,” Hoppe said.

Though most groups use the facility in the spring and fall seasons, groups still go in the winter.

Originally, the area was farmland owned by Wallace Heckman.

Heckman allowed a group of artists, who wanted to get away and use land next to beautiful scenery, to construct buildings there. That area then became known as the Eagle Nest Art Colony from 1898 to 1942.

The owners then were able to lease the land. When the last founder of the colony died, it was given to the last family who leased the land.

That family sold the land to the Department of Natural Resources. At that time, it was known as Lowden State Park. The department then sold it again to NIU.

One notable feature of the site is a hollow concrete statue built in 1910 called the “Eternal Indian.” The statue is located next to the Rock River, which is near Lorado Taft.

“It was never meant to represent one tribe,” Hoppe said.

Another notable feature is “The Procession,” a lifelike statue of six people carrying a coffin. It is located near the craft shop and was built more than 100 years ago.

Lorado Taft is not an open facility or a tourist area. The only people allowed are those who reserve the land, Hoppe said.