Butler Jeep festival hits record pre-registration

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From as far away as California and Canada, thousands are expected to come to Butler this weekend for the fourth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, an event that turns a spotlight on Butler as the birthplace of the Bantam Jeep — a vehicle that was created to benefit the Allied forces of World War II.

“It’s a national event. We’re attracting people from all over the United States and Canada,” festival director Patti Jo Lambert said, who noted that no other event in Butler County attracts people from as far away as the Jeep festival.

“The economic impact of that is tremendous,” she said. Campgrounds are sold out, hundreds of hotel rooms are booked and local restaurants are geared up to serve thousands of extra meals

The festival at Cooper’s Lake Campground near Slippery Rock will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

A key annual event promoted by the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the festival will explore the history of Jeeps, with dozens of rare military vehicles on display, while at the same time offering Jeep enthusiasts a chance to tap into the particulars of topics ranging from maintenance hints to off-road challenges.

Pre-registrations hit a record this year with 1,557 Jeeps, nearly 500 more than last year. About 15,000 visitors attended the three-day event last year and more are expected this year, Ms. Lambert said.

Also growing is the number of volunteers. More than 400 are signed up to staff the event, including a couple dozen soldiers of the Butler Army Reserve and members of a local Boy Scout troop. Volunteers get to stay an hour later on Friday and Saturday.

The festival attracts Jeep owners who show off their vehicles and test them on the “Jeep Playground,” an off-road obstacle course; those who are interested in World War II and local motor vehicle history and who want to hear about the pivotal role of the Bantam Jeep; and those who want to eat, take a tethered balloon ride, kayak, hike and bike.

More than 1,000 Jeeps will be on display — some which visitors can ride in. The event also includes re-enactors in an encampment; speakers and exhibits related to Jeep history; parts and accessories from about 100 vendors; off-road trails; competitions; and organized rides.

Among the most popular features of the three-day event is the mud pit “Jeep Playground,” where spectators can watch while Jeepers test their driving skills and their vehicle’s muscle. New this year is a mud pit designated for stock Jeeps.

Also new is the Bantam Jeep Muddy 5K, which will give runners a chance to use a portion of the playground — the muddy portion!

Another new feature will be a tour Saturday of historic travels in Butler County, in which participants will taste recipes that were served to travelers at an historic stage coach stop, the Old Stone House, and hike near the trail that George Washington traversed in 1753. On Friday and Sunday, a glacial interpretive driving tour will explore the geological formations made by glaciers at McConnells Mill, Moraine State Park and Jennings Environmental Educational Center.

Tethered balloon rides, weather permitting, will be available for $10 for adults and $5 for children. All proceeds will benefit programs for veterans at Veterans Affairs Butler Healthcare.

Ms. Lambert said she’s particularly excited to see the festival offer a free “ride with the guide” option for those who attend the festival but who don’t own Jeeps. This event will allow participants to test drive a new Jeep with a guide in the vehicle on an off-road trail.

Popular repeats from past festivals include: a display of “concept Jeeps”; the Friday night “Jeep Invasion,” which is a vehicle cruise of more than a thousand Jeeps from 6 to 10 p.m. in downtown Butler; and a World War II encampment with about two dozen World War II Jeeps and re-enactors telling stories of the Jeep and Army life during the 1940s.

Mike Tompkins of Milwaukee and his fiance, Michele Plane, are arriving a couple days early so they can be married by the Butler mayor.

Mr. Tompkins, who has attended the festival the past three years, said he makes the eight-hour drive because “we enjoy everything about the festival ... the playground, the trails, we just love it.” As for getting married in Butler, he said it’s a good location that’s central for family coming from Maine, South Carolina, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., as well as from the Pittsburgh area.

Festival admission: $7 for adults, $3 for children. Prices vary for events for “Jeepers” and can be purchased in packages.

Information: 724-234-2291 or www.bantamjeepfestival.com.

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

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

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