MUDDY TRAIL, FUN RIDE
David McDonald of Butler sends mud flying as he makes his way through the obstacle course during the fourth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival at Cooper's Lake Campground on Saturday.
WORTH TWP — Thousands of Jeep enthusiasts packed Cooper's Lake Campground last weekend for the fourth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival. The festival, which attracted 1,911 Jeeps, up from 1,557 last year, offered riders an opportunity to test their driving skills on a variety of trails and courses. Alice Crider of Connoquenessing Township was a leading coordinator of the Mystery Rally Tour, despite her family not owning any model of the vehicle. “It's still a lot of fun,” she said of the festival. Crider said she liked the Mystery Rally Tour, which took riders on a scavenger hunt along one of seven routes around the county, because it showcased the area to out-of-town visitors. “It spotlights the beauty of our county,” she said. “We have people driving around all our back country roads.” Crider said the festival helps put Butler County on the map. “It's amazing how many people out there are from out of state,” she said. Organizer Patti Jo Lambert said Jeeps were brought in from 28 states and Canada. Jack Cohen, the president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said the weekend was another successful event. “The nicest thing is that everyone is having fun,” he said. “It's a great event.”
Cohen estimated up to 20,000 people visited the campground through each of the days. “Jeep enthusiasts want to be part of it,” he said. “It's a lot of fun to watch all the Jeeps go through the mud.” The “playground” area set up allowed Jeeps to ride through an obstacle course complete with deep mud, big rocks, and tall dirt mounds. The rock pile proved a difficult test for the riders. “It's pretty good there,” said Bob Courtney of Alliance, Ohio. Courtney was stuck on the rock for a couple minutes before he was able to get down with the assistance of the volunteer guides. “They kept telling me to stay to the side and I probably should have listened,” he said. Courtney was at the festival with the Jeep club from his town. He said it is an annual trip for the club. “We've been to every one,” he said of the past festivals. “It's a fun event.”
Bob Cox of Bel Air, Md., was riding with his son, Ryan, 15, and the family's dog, Hazel. The festival proved a great trip for Cox to bring out his off-road vehicle. “It's our weekend warrior,” he said of his 2011 Wrangler. Cox said he was a big fan of the different trails set up around the campground. “They're great,” he said. “It's muddy. Very wet, very slippery.” While Ryan still has a year before he can get his license, he has already begun testing the family's Jeep. “He's been practicing,” Cox said. “I've been trying to learn to drive a stick,” Ryan added. “I'm catching on.” As he learns to drive, Ryan will have the support of Hazel, who sits patiently harnessed in the back seat. “She loves it,” Cox said. “She loves being on the trails.”
While Ryan is on the verge of beginning to drive, Kason Stum of York Haven has a ways to wait. That didn't stop the 9-year-old from getting the most out of the day. “It's really fun,” Kason said. “I've liked (Jeeps) my whole life.” Kason, who was participating in the Moraine State Park tour with his father, Larry Stum, had a popular opinion on what makes riding Jeeps fun. “I like the mud,” he said. Leading the tours was a group of volunteer trail guides. It's a role Patrick McClaskey of McDonald, Ohio, has filled since the event started. “I've been here all four years,” he said. McClaskey said the heavy rains Friday added a bit more excitement to the on-site trails, which took riders around the borders of the campground. “It's pretty tough when the trails are wet,” he said. “It's interesting.”