Butler festival hails the Jeep
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Butler's Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, set to begin Friday, is expected to bring hundreds of the iconic vehicles to the streets of Butler County, thousands of Jeep enthusiasts to the region's hotels and more than a million dollars to the local economy.
"Expectations are high," said festival organizer Patti Jo Lambert. calling the festival a "homecoming for Jeeps" that "celebrates our Jeep heritage and gives Jeep enthusiasts an opportunity to admire all of the makes and models of Jeeps that were created since the very first Bantam was produced [in Butler.]"
Last year was the first for the annual celebration of the connection between the Jeep and its Butler birthplace. It was so successful, it even was cited by Smithsonian magazine as one of the reasons the city was picked for the May issue of the 20 best small towns in America.
John Hollibaugh of West Deer said it will be a highlight of the year. "I think it's the best thing that has ever happened to Butler," said the 44-year-old who calls his love of the Jeep a "sick obsession." He participates in online Jeep forums and said he's proud that a show being held just 30 miles or so from his home is being dubbed one of the -- if not THE -- biggest in the world.
Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree, who also is the chairman of the county's economic development agency, the Community Development Corporation, said the festival's benefit to the county is both measurable and immeasurable.
"In dollars and cents, there's a quantifiable benefit. Hotel rooms are being filled. Restaurants are serving meals. [Retail shops] are being visited. But there's also the element of exposure. This is great exposure for Butler County. This gives an opportunity to people to see what Butler County is all about. Some of those people may be part of a company that's thinking about relocating," Mr. Andree said.
Ms. Lambert said the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, which sponsors the festival, has estimated that the festival brought $1.2 million to the county last year.
"Hotels have been sold out since early this year," she said, noting that if things go this year as they went last, the parking lots of gas stations, restaurants, shops and campgrounds will be filled with Jeeps this weekend.
Last year, Butler police estimated that the Friday night Jeep parade attracted some 30,000 people while attendance at the Big Butler Fairground events totaled about 20,000 on Saturday and Sunday. Visitors came from throughout the United States and beyond.
When online registration closed on July 24, more than 1,000 Jeeps were registered for the "Jeep Invasion" -- a Jeep "car cruise" planned for Downtown Butler from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday. She expects the numbers to increase during on-site registration. Last year, some 1,300 Jeeps were registered for the weekend.
While numerous Jeep-related activities are planned through Sunday, some highlights will include:
• A display of seven half-million-dollar "concept cars," sent by Michigan-based Jeep Corp., at the Butler Fairgrounds on Route 422 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
• The "Jeep Playground" will be open both days, giving Jeep enthusiasts a chance to test their vehicle's skills on mud, rocks and dirt.
• The "World War II Encampment" display, that shines a headlight on the critical role the Bantam Jeep played in the WWII.
• The "Jeep Team Challenge" contest from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The challenge will feature 50 Jeep owners attempting a series of driving challenges, ranging from navigating while blindfolded to driving in reverse.
Also, a Mystery Road Rally will give 200 Jeeps the chance to go on a scavenger hunt throughout Butler County. Eight different routes are being designed with stops at some of the County's businesses and attractions. Prizes will be awarded to the Jeeps who correctly answer trivia questions and return to the festival closest to the pre-determined time and mileage.
• The Great Pig Out will enable jeepers who pre-ordered tickets to feast on a traditional pig roast with all of the trimmings. The evening will also include music by Butler band Mass Transit, games and other activities designed to give attendees a chance to meet more Jeep enthusiasts and have fun together.
• The Ruff 'n Tuff competition on Sunday offers the chance to compete in some nontraditional categories. Judges will select the Jeep with the Most Mud, Most Tattoos and the Most Extreme, among other categories.
• Dealers and individuals will be on hand to sell their used Jeep parts and military antiques/collectibles to attendees.
The Jeeps Through the Dec-ades display of more than a dozen Jeeps will showcase some of the major models and body styles of Jeeps during the past 71 years.
Those who wish to come as spectators to see the Jeeps and other events can purchase spectator admission tickets at the gate for $7 for adults and $3 for kids ages 3-12. Cash only is accepted. Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday evening activities will begin at 5 p.m. and continue through 9:30 p.m. Spectators are asked to use the East Gate entrance off of Unionville Road on Route 422.
Online registration closed on July 24 but on-site registration will be available at Clearview Mall in Center on from 4 to 8 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow. Registration also can be made at the Big Butler Fairgrounds starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday and Aug. 11 and 12. Jeeps can register for various activities until capacity is reached.
More information can be obtained by calling 724-234-2291 or emailing info@bantamJeepfestival.com.
First Published August 9, 2012 5:35 am