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Jeep Fest newbies go through ‘boot camp’ at Kildoo property

Greg Pina maneuvers his Jeep over a log bridge during Bantam Boot Camp at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle.

SLIPPERY ROCK TWP, Lawrence County — The 13th annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival kicks off Friday, June 7 at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.

However, just a few miles away from the campground, some Jeep enthusiasts got an early taste of the action at a Bantam Boot Camp at a quarry on Kildoo Road in Portersville. The boot camp was intended to get less experienced drivers familiar with the basics of driving off road and prepare them for driving the trails and the playground at the festival site.

“This is a beginner course for first-time or inexperienced drivers,” said event organizer Janine Mickey.

According to Mickey, while the boot camp is recommended for Jeep drivers who haven’t been through the Jeep Festival playground or trails before, it isn’t strictly a requirement. Nevertheless, dozens of Jeep owners made the trip to the property on Kildoo Road to take part in the valuable experience.

Among them was Kristen Spahn, who in December purchased a white 2020 Jeep Gladiator with the Mojave package.

“We saw that the Bantam festival was this year, and I said, ‘Why not? Let’s go have some fun,’” Spahn said.

Another pair of newcomers to the Jeep festival are Gary and Melissa Endlich, who previously attended the festival as spectators but are embarking on their first trip through the festivals’ trails in their own Jeep.

“We’ve been up here a couple times and really enjoyed it,” said Gary. “She did (the trails) last year so I figured I’d try it this year.”

During the boot camp, drivers were split into three groups. The groups took turns taking their Jeeps through the Kildoo Road property’s trails.

“They will have hill descents and hill climbs,” Mickey said. “They will go over a tire garden, a rock garden, two rock bridges and through a little bit of mud.”

Participants also watched demonstrations on how to keep their Jeeps out of trouble on the course.

One major topic was “airing up” and “airing down” the massive tires which are part of nearly every Jeep. Drivers were advised to let air out of their tires to get more traction on the course, then pump air back into the tires once it was time to get back on the street.

“They air their tires down to get better traction,” Mickey said. “It gives you a larger surface area so that when you're going over or through mud, you have a larger area that you can cover to help get through it better. It displaces the mud.”

Not all Jeeps are made equal. While some, such as Spahn and Endlich’s, were pretty much stock, other participants modified their Jeeps for better performance. These included tour guide Doug Salah, who brought a 2004 Wrangler.

“I lifted it, tummy-tucked it, and put bigger tires on it. I put rock rails on the sides and a new top,” Salah said. “I’ve still got a lot more to go.”

Aside from this boot camp event, the trails at the Kildoo Road property will be used for the “Babes of Bantam” all-women Jeep trail ride on Friday and will also be open for sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival weekend.

Greg Pina maneuvers his Jeep over a log bridge during Bantam Boot Camp at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Robin Tom maneuvers his Jeep over a log bridge during Bantam Boot Camp at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Robin Tom maneuvers his Jeep over a log bridge during the Bantam Boot Camp at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Jeeps take off for the trail at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo during the Bantam Boot Camp on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Zack Heisey, right, leads a safety demonstration during the Bantam Boot Camp at the Bantam Quarry at Kildoo on Thursday, June 6. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

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