Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival even more revved up this year

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:11 p.m.

More than a year ago, Dan Suess of Butler was considering selling his Jeep, but after participating in last year's Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in his hometown, “I was hooked.”

Suess, 32, returns this year as a trail guide for the festival, which has moved from August to June, and from the Butler County Fairgrounds to Coopers Lake Campground in Slippery Rock. Friday night's Jeep Invasion will again be in downtown Butler.

Suess says the new location for most events will make the festival bigger and better.

“Last year, we had three very short trails,” he says. “Now, we'll have five trails at least a quarter-mile long (each),” which will minimize the long lines for trail rides in the past. In addition to the five trails through the woods, this year's Jeep festival will again feature an “onsite playground” featuring rocks, bridges, dirt piles and a mud pit for Jeeps to travel on and through.

“There were guys from 80 years old to guys who just got their licenses who were having a blast,” Suess says of last year's onsite playground.

“A large number of Jeep owners need to go off-road and on trails,” says festival director Patti Jo Lambert, who adds that more than 1,000 Jeeps are pre-registered for the three-day festival. Lambert says the hundreds of acres at Coopers Lake gave the festival committee more flexibility and space in which to configure the festival layout.

Father's Day weekend was the only weekend available at Coopers Lake, but organizers hope the date will create a new tradition for folks who appreciate the “father of all Jeeps,” the original Bantam Jeep produced in Butler, Lambert says.

While pre-registration for events is closed, spots for many Jeep events are available for registration at the festival. An online registration session also will be available from 2 to 6 p.m. June 14 at Clearview Mall in Butler, where volunteers will set up near the center of the mall. The exception is the sold-out Glacial Tour, featuring Jeep tours guides explaining the impact of glaciers on the area's landscape.

The festival also will feature a display of the history of the Bantam Jeep. Military veterans will set up a World War II encampment featuring more than 20 Jeeps from the 1940s. How-to clinics presenters and several speakers will discuss various aspects of the Jeep and Jeep history during the three-day festival, which also will include activities for children.

The festival will again feature concept Jeeps from the Jeep Underground and from the Jeep brand. Craig Buoncompagno of the Jeep Underground, based at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Mich., says he will send two Jeep concept cars. One is a Grand Cherokee with 35-inch tires, raised wheel openings to accommodate the tires and modified front and rear bumpers, among other modifications.

The other is a flattop Wrangler with 37-inch tires, a new top with no windows, some Rubicon 10 parts and modified bumpers to fit a winch.

“It's as low as you can get with big tires, so the center of gravity is lower and more stable,” Buoncompagno says of the concept Wrangler.

Buoncompagno says last year's Jeep festival, which he attended in Butler, was “great.”

“The people in Butler were so happy we brought the concept cars to show,” he says. “That's why we build the cars — for people to see and get ideas on how to customize their Jeeps.”

The Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival is “a great family thing, to come out and do something different,” Lambert says.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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