New location, new dates set for next year's Jeep fest

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The engines have cooled on this year's second annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, and organizers are pleased with both the turnout and the profit. But major changes involving the timing and the location for next year's event have been made.

Festival director Patti Jo Lambert said the 2013 festival, which celebrates the Butler birthplace of the Jeep, will be shifted from the second weekend in August to June 13-16, which is Father's Day weekend. The venue also will shift from the Butler Fairgrounds in Prospect to Coopers Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.

"We think these changes will help us grow the event," she said.

Some practical considerations in coming to the decisions included a scheduling conflict with a pyrotechnic group that's to be in town the second weekend in August. "There's so much that goes on in the summer. When we looked at this weekend, it seemed like there was a lot of potential," Ms. Lambert said.

As for the campground location, she said its undeveloped terrain will allow Jeep enthusiasts the chance to do what many of them love best -- take their vehicles off-road. "It's an ideal location. The trails can be longer and more challenging, and it's attached to a full-service campground," she said.

Turnout for this year's festival was healthy. Some 1,485 Jeeps registered for at least one event over the three-day weekend -- a 14 percent increase over 2011. Ms. Lambert noted there had been some concerns about the impact on the decision not to hold a parade this year, opting instead for what amounted to a car cruise -- the "Jeep invasion" in Butler. She said police estimated that the crowd for the car cruise was comparable to the crowd for the parade. Overall, she said some 30,000 people attended the festival.

"We were a little worried about not having the parade. There had been some negative comments when we made the decision," she recalled.

The difficulty in staging the parade -- a three-hour enterprise that tied up Route 8 from Butler County Community College to downtown Butler -- figured heavily into the decision. But, she said, the numbers don't bear out any discontent: Last year, 1,106 Jeeps participated in the parade compared to 1,085 in the cruise.

She said comments received from participants via Facebook and other venues indicated that the parade would be welcomed on special anniversary years but that the Jeep invasion had some advantages over the parade.

"The invasion was like a street party that everybody could enjoy the entire time the whole night long," she said. Still, she envisions the parade being held at the 75th anniversary of the Jeep. Last year's parade made it into the Guinness World Records book for "longest parade of Jeeps."

Ms. Lambert said she and directors of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the agency that supports the Jeep festival, are excited about moving the event's time frame and location because of the perceived potential for growth. "We want this to keep growing, keep building momentum.

"There are so many events in August filling our hotels and occupying people's schedules. We think this makes more sense [locally], and there's nothing happening with Jeeps [across the country] to conflict either. Vendors and sponsors think June will be great."

Revenue from this year's festival not only covered costs but will provide seed money for the 2013 festival. "We'll have some new costs next year by moving over to Cooper Lake, but we'll have startup costs covered," she said.

Ms. Lambert said Cooper Lake offers 500 acres of ground that can accommodate the Jeep's ability to traverse hill and dale.

"We had site trails at the fairgrounds but only in a small area. At Cooper Lake, they can have a trail network cut into their woods that offer longer and expanded and different degrees of difficulty for the trails. It's going to be a lot of fun for our Jeep enthusiasts," she said.

While many of the details for next year's festival have yet to be decided, the 2013 festival planning committee already envisions that the main activities like the Jeep invasion, Jeep playground, trail rides, show 'n' shine, and vendors will be featured Friday and Saturday, June 14-15.

But there are plans to extend activities to June 13 and June 16. Ms. Lambert said the concept is a nod to Father's Day, shifting the main activities from Saturday and Sunday to Friday and Sunday but giving dads who are enthusiasts a little something to look forward to on the holiday itself.

"The Festival is a great opportunity for Jeep enthusiasts to create a new Father's Day tradition with their families, and we also recognize that some festival-goers have long-standing traditions with their dads so we are changing our schedule so no one misses out on a great time with their Jeep or with their extended family members," Ms. Lambert said. "The Planning Committee may even create some special family-focused Jeep activities on Father's Day to add to the weekend's fun."

neigh_north

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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