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Have Jeep, Will Travel

Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival participants can experience a drive-through safari Friday through Sunday. In addition to the animal encounter, Keystone Safari in Grove City plans to build an off-road component and dirt trail for Jeep enthusiasts. Submitted photo

Participants in the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, Friday to Sunday, will have the opportunity to explore Butler County and learn about the historical significance of the vehicle as they stop at local businesses, drive along scenic routes and spend time in nature.

Interactive activities this year will engage visitors of all ages with a few new twists.

Digital scavenger hunt

Mystery Road Rally is back with a new name, and this year, the familiar scavenger hunt from festivals past has gone digital. Jeep ‘n Seek takes participants on a road trip through historical and cultural fixtures in Butler County, from local landmarks like the Mars Train Station to the Bottlebrush Gallery in Harmony.

Trivia and other scavenger hunt activities will be available through an app, where participants can digitally answer trivia questions about Jeep history and submit pictures taken around the festival.

Since the Jeep festival coincides with the Mars New Year Festival, participants will be able to visit the Mars Rover in Mars, among other locations, where they will be prompted to scan a QR code to check in and receive points.

En route through Butler County, participants will be able to stop by local businesses, including Novel Breads Bakery in Mars, Neff Haus Ice Cream Shop in Harmony and The Beacon Hotel in Renfrew.

Points are awarded virtually for each activity completed. The top five winners are set to receive plaques.

Jeep Safari

Jeep festival participants can drive through an interactive zoo in their Jeeps, thanks to a new partnership with Keystone Safari this year. In an exception to park rules, festival participants will be able to drive their Jeeps “topless” through the safari.

“The Keystone Safari is the perfect way to incorporate some fun along with our Jeeps,” said Patti Jo Lambert, founding festival director. “We’re excited to offer this as a new activity for our participants.”

“I just think that where we are in rural Western Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty special thing to have. With the Jeep fest, we’re excited to have our name attached to it,” said Adam Guiher, owner of the Keystone Safari, 2284 Mercer Butler Pike, Grove City.

To prepare for the festival, Keystone Safari will build an off-road component and dirt trail.

Visitors will end their drive with an exclusive animal experience unique to the Jeep festival, Lambert said.

State park scenic tour

Jeep festival attendees can embark on a nature tour in the protected area of McConnells Mill and explore sights such as the covered bridge built in 1874 and Hell’s Hollow Falls.

Retired geologist Fred Zelt, local author and historian Polly Shaw, and environmental educator Natalie Simon will be stationed around the route in Slippery Rock Township, Lawrence County, to speak about the environmental and historical significance of the area.

“It’s an opportunity to drive through the beautiful countryside and learn a bit of history,” Lambert said.

While the tour often rotates each year between Jennings, Moraine, McConnells Mill and other parks, the route frequently changes.

“No year is the same,” Lambert said.

Simon will lead visitors into a discussion around the environmental significance of the area and its unique geology.

“The (Slippery Rock Creek Gorge) is a national natural landmark due to its geology,” she said. Within the United States, 602 such landmarks exist.

Hell Run — a tributary of Slippery Rock Creek in McConnells Mill — is designated as an exceptional value stream by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. It runs through limestone, which filters pollutants and is responsible for the stream’s excellent water quality.

“It is truly a special place and that has influenced the plants that can grow there. There are many rare species,” Simon said.

The park boasts a variety of wildflowers. Eastern hemlock, the Pennsylvania state tree, shapes the valley and keeps the place cool for native trout.

“I witness so many people coming to McConells Mill just to take a breath and reconnect with nature. It’s beautiful,” Simon said.

“My hope is that (visitors) get an understanding of what the local park means to the area. This really shows off what the county has to offer,” said Kellie Rae, Bantam board member.

Updates and details for each festival activity can be found on the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival’s website at bantamjeepfestival.com.

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