Snow may be flying, but scores of forward-thinking "jeepers" already have their sites set on June, when Butler County will host its third Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival.
Registration began Jan. 10, and within 10 days, 185 Jeep owners had signed up to take part in the "Jeep invasion" -- a car cruise-styled event set for the first evening of the three-day festival. Some 138 sign-ups had been posted for the Jeep "playground" and on-site trails.
"We've launched registration, and it's gotten off to a great start," said Patti Jo Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau and coordinator of the festival.
The 2013 festival features major changes. It will be held on a different weekend and in a different location: Father's Day weekend, June 14-16, at the 500-acre Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock. Previous festivals had been held in August at the Butler Fairgrounds. Also, the festival has been expanded to three full days.
"We think these will be welcome changes," Ms. Lambert said. The location allows jeepers to capitalize on more and longer trails -- a major attraction for those who enjoy off-roading. "We have more space at Cooper's so we're not confined to a particular layout for the trails," she said, adding that Rausch Creek Offroad of Tremont has been hired to design the trails. The "playground" will feature the usual rock piles and telephone-pole obstacles that jeep adventurers expect.
Another popular event that keys on the history of the Jeep, which was first produced in the form of the Bantam Jeep during World War II, is the re-creation of the "World War II encampment."
It's set up by a group of enthusiasts from the Tri-State area who gather with authentic uniforms and equipment to re-create the way soldiers lived during World War II when the Bantam Jeep made its debut. The group will bring about 20 restored Jeeps from the 1940s.
"The encampment is a huge aspect of our festival because it tells the story of the Jeep's history," Ms. Lambert said.
While many of the festival's events are free, a fee is charged to use the playground and trails. This year, for the first time, a package of four activities is being offered at a discounted rate of $70. The fees help festival organizers to cover their costs.
"We make a little of a profit -- enough to donate to some of the organizations involved in helping us and enough to give us a little seed money for the next year. But this event isn't about making money. It's about creating an attraction that brings thousands of people and their money to Butler County," Ms. Lambert said. "They stay in our campgrounds and our hotels. They eat in our restaurants and buy gas. It's great for our local economy."
Last year, more than a thousand Jeep owners participated in the event, which drew some 30,000 spectators.
Other festival features are the "mystery road rally" and "Jeep team challenge." The rally is a scavenger hunt that takes jeepers on various routes throughout Butler County where they need to answer questions about places along the route.
The challenge features fun obstacles for a driver and passenger to do together such as driving in reverse and smashing water balloons.
Prizes will be awarded to the winners of both activities.
On Friday afternoon, jeepers will have an opportunity to drive on Butler County's scenic back roads and learn about the county's geologic history, visiting three geological formations made by glaciers that covered the area during the last Ice Age.
There will be more "show 'n shine" classes and trophies for adults and kids will have a chance to participate in their own competition, using wooden toy Jeep kits can will be available for purchase online in February.
Also planned is a barbecue and bonfire for Saturday night and a Father's Day breakfast for Sunday.
The deadline for registration is May 19.
In the meantime, Ms. Lambert is hoping to recruit 300 volunteers for the festival.
For more information or to register: www.bantamjeepfestival.com or 724-234-2291.
Karen Kane: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-9180.