Jeeps ride into AOAA for weekend
COAL TOWNSHIP - More than 200 people and 109 vehicles from 18 states will participate in the inaugural Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree this weekend at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
The event, sponsored by the California-based Jeep Jamboree USA and hosted locally by the Northumberland County Planning Department, will kick off today with registration, vehicle evaluation and trail signups from 5 to 7 p.m. at the entrance to the county-owned property, off Route 125 on the Burnside mountain south of Shamokin.
"We sold out this event in 15 hours after it was first advertised on Dec. 1," said Steve Risk, local coordinator and trail guide for Jeep Jamboree USA, which was founded in 1953. "This is the first jamboree to ever sell out that quickly, and I think that had to do with the experience people have had riding Jeeps in this region. This a great turnout."
Risk said first-time Jeep Jamboree events normally attract between 50 and 165 vehicles.
Those coming to Northumberland County for the three-day event will arrive from as far as Wisconsin, Minnesota and California, in addition to New England states, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Risk noted one-third of the approximately 20 trail guides are from Northumberland County.
Local businesses and organizations are involved, too, as food vendors on-site, hosts of jamboree dinners or in other capacities.
Jeep Jamboree USA, which will sponsor 31 events across the country this year, describes its events as "off-road adventure weekends that bring together the outdoors, down-to-earth people and their Jeep 4x4s."
3rd Pa. event in '12
Following tonight's registration, Jeep Jamboree will sponsor a dinner for trail guides at Original Italian Pizza in downtown Shamokin.
The jamboree, which will mark the third off-road event sponsored by Jeep Jamboree USA this year in Pennsylvania, will include trail riding from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Lunch will be from noon to 1 p.m. each day, with One Smart Cookie of Coal Township, which will take orders at tonight's registration, providing the bagged meals.
A dinner catered by Chef Jeff's Food Food Food of Shamokin will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday at the East Cameron Township Fire Company grounds.
Pet Rock, a band from Elysburg, will provide entertainment during Friday's dinner. Zimmerman Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Sunbury will sponsor the band and other jamboree expenses.
Friendship Fire Company of Shamokin will serve breakfast Friday and Saturday.
The weekend will conclude with a dinner for all participants and trail guides from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Masser's Wayside Inn in Weigh Scales.
Levels of difficulty
Risk, 58, who resides in Quarryville where he operates a construction company, has served as a trail guide for Jeep Jamboree USA since 1998 and participated in his first jamboree in 1990.
Risk, whose Jeep tagline is "Risk It," said he enjoyed riding motorcycles in his younger years and became involved in Jeep riding when his son, D.J., was growing up. His son, who is now 28, also serves as a trail guide and will work this weekend with his father at the AOAA.
"I love going out in the woods to ride Jeeps," he said. "It's a great sport."
Risk said the trail rides involve three different levels of difficulty. The green level is for beginners and stock vehicles that average 20 to 30 miles of travel. The blue level, which is for "moderately modified" vehicles, is more challenging and covers between 12 and 18 miles. Risk said the black level is the most challenging course for modified vehicles that travel between 8 and 12 miles.
'A great site'
Risk has worked primarily up and down the East Coast for Jeep Jamboree USA, but he also served as a trail guide for Jeep Eastern Safari at an event in Moab, Utah, that drew between 1,200 to 1,700 vehicles. He is a member of Red Rock Four Wheelers, which helped coordinate the event in Utah.
"Part of my job involves finding a suitable site to hold an off-road event," Risk said. "Judging by the response we've received for this event, I think the AOAA will be a great site and lead to future events being held there."
He said the events have a "huge positive impact" on the local community in terms of jobs and services.
"People who come to these jamborees buy fuel and food, and that certainly helps the area," he said.
Risk said the one thing lacking in the immediate area is lodging. He noted Country Inn and Suites along I-81 in Cass Township, Schuylkill County, is the host hotel for the jamboree.
Other accommodations within a 25-minute drive of the trails promoted by Jeep Jamboree USA to its participants include Knoebels Campground in Elysburg, J&D Campground in Catawissa RD, Lake Glory Campground in Catawissa RD, Hampton Inn in Shamokin Dam and Best Western, Hampton Inn and Pine Barn Inn in Danville.
$30 per for county
Registration fees are $450 per family, $195 for adults and $95 for children between the ages of six and 12. Children age five and under are admitted free. The fees cover all necessary permits, land-use fees, guides and three meals Friday and Saturday.
Northumberland County, which owns the 6,596-acre AOAA site, will receive $30 from Jeep Jamboree USA for each vehicle that participates.
Kathy Jeremiah, who serves as co-coordinator for AOAA with county planning department director Pat Mack, said the jamboree will not be a competitive event like the Valley Forge Trail Riders Anthracite Hare Scrambles, the first official event hosted by the AOAA five weeks ago.
"This won't be a race," Jeremiah said. "Riders can take their time on the course."
Jeremiah said the maximum seating capacity for a vehicle is five, but the majority of the vehicles will probably contain one or two riders.
Mack said the goal is to conduct several national events at the AOAA every year.
Jeremiah said the trails have been adequately prepared for the jamboree, noting trail guides have been busy every weekend for the past several months designating existing trails that the vehicles will traverse.
She said Jeeps will travel over rocky areas along the trails, but said there will be no official rock-climbing involved. That popular off-road activity is something county officials foresee for the AOAA.
Jeremiah said vendors will not be charged to set up on-site.
She said Jeep Jamboree USA chose the vendors and dinner hosts after receiving referrals from the planning department based on appropriate accommodations. She said they contacted the planning department when they heard about the jamboree.
Unlike the hare scrambles, there will be no need to use water from nearby fire hydrants to wet down trails, Mack said. Burnside residents complained about the lack of water pressure in the village reportedly caused by water tapped from a village hydrant that weekend.
The master site plan for the AOAA, which is not yet officially established, was developed by the county planning department and Pashek & Associates, a Pittsburgh-based design firm. The AOAA stretches across county coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships.
The site plan, which cost $238,000 to develop, was paid for with a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and a $38,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
In July 2011, the county received $300,000 from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to construct a 1,280-foot paved road from Route 125 south of Burnside to the AOAA welcome center and educational facility on the east side of the highway.
The county also received a $20,000 Yamaha Off-Highway Vehicle Access Initiative Grant for trail development, mapping and signage, a $10,000 Polaris TRAILS Program Grant for trail design and development, and $400,000 from the DCNR snowmobile and ATV fund.
Supporters claim the AOAA will bring order to use of the mountainous area and generate tourism dollars and jobs to the eastern end of the county, while critics complain about having to pay to ride their ATVs and other vehicles on land they previously used for free. Detractors also claim the county has removed a large section of prime hunting territory by developing the AOAA.
Plans call for the AOAA to be used for motorized and non-motorized recreation, including all-terrain and off-road vehicles, cycling, hiking and horseback riding.