JJUSA drivers sign in, put their Jeeps on display at Claude Kehler Community Park
SHAMOKIN - A portion of West Arch Street at Claude Kehler Community Park Thursday was filled with dozens of Jeeps with license plates from California, Texas, North Carolina and all over the east coast.
The crowd, surrounded by the sound of rock music and aroma of burgers and pierogies, gathered in the late afternoon for the kickoff registration event for the Pirate Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree, which is being held Friday and Saturday at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
It's the Gecinger family's first time riding in Pennsylvania.
"We're looking forward to this. We see a lot of familiar faces here, so we know we're in for a good time," Jodi Gecinger said about herself, her husband, Blake, and their 7-year-old daughter, Autumn.
She said they don't have a place like the AOAA in their home state of North Carolina, and they are excited about finally riding in the park.
"I love the terrain and the rocks. And it (Shamokin) is old. I like old towns," Gecinger said.
While the Gecinger family traveled nearly eight hours north to attend the event, a group of five friends traveled the same amount of time from the opposite direction - the city of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.
Patrick Chamberlain said he and his friends attempted to register for the larger event in August, which sold out in 85 minutes, but were not successful.
They were placed on what they called a "wish list" and eventually were contacted about this weekend's event, Chamberlain said.
Both the Gecinger family and the Canadian friends are staying at motels in Frackville.
The visiting group, Jeep Jamboree USA, is a partner of the famed Jeep manufacturing company. It's based in California but attracts Jeep enthusiasts nationwide. Group members made their first visit to the 6,500-acre AOAA last year, bringing with them 81 Jeeps and 210 participants and guides.
The local ride was a popular one among JJUSA members, and the first scheduled ride at AOAA in 2013, the Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree planned for Aug. 1 to 3, attracted 90 Jeeps and sold out in less than one hour.
The organizers of the soft opening Thursday called the block-party-like event a success for the riders, but the weather kept the public away from checking out the Jeeps parked in the closed street.
Although the rain may affect the city residents, AOAA Authority member Barry Yorwarth said it would prove interesting for the riders over the weekend.
"The guides will have new issues. Last year, they had a lot of dust. This year, it looks like it will be slick rocks and mud," he said.
It will be a different experience than last year's event, he said.
Yorwarth said he envisions hooking up different promoters with different municipalities in the future and holding more soft openings like the one Thursday.
Other registration and inspections could be held at the RCA Grounds in Ranshaw or the Foundry recreation area in Trevorton, he said.
At Thursday's event, the Jeeps were inspected, and each rider registered between 5 and 7 p.m. and chose their desired trail while local band RATL provided the entertainment.
Members of Forest Hill Fire Company grilled and sold hamburgers and hot dogs, and Fisher's Boston Pierogies sold its signature product.
The Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce handed out maps to Jeep riders to let them know what the area has to offer.
During the ride today and Saturday, there will be 50 registered Jeeps and 14 vehicles with trail guides, and there are 127 people from 18 different states signed up to ride, explained Glenda Gau, the adventure consultant with Jeep Jamboree.
Steve Risk, the local coordinator, said hosting the kickoff event at Claude Kehler was a good idea for many reasons, including providing business for local restaurants.
Other people were asking where the local grocery stores were located.
The riders met for lunch Thursday at Coney Island on Independence Street, and will have breakfast at Masser Banquet Hall in Elysburg today and Saturday.
"So far, this is going pretty well. Everyone is loud, noisy and excited," Risk said.
Deb Yeager, branch manager of Susquehanna Bank on Independence Street, and Steve Bartos, city clerk, helped organize the registration event.