By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Jeep lovers and owners will roar their way into Whitley County and the city of Williamsburg this weekend for the 20th Annual Gateway to the Cumberlands Jeep Jamboree USA.
According to Don Ford, Gateway to the Cumberlands coordinator, the event is completely geared for family entertainment.
“This is a family-oriented trail ride,” Ford said. “A lot of people think it’s rocky climbing…but it’s not like that at all.”
He explained the “trail ride” takes Jeep owners, lovers, riders and aficionados through the woods of Whitley County.
“There are several trails,” Ford explained, adding that the trails for Jeep Jamboree during these events are usually rated on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the most difficult for Jeep riders to traverse.
“For this area, there are no firsts,” Ford said. “The trails are ranked four (through) nine.”
He explained that those participating in the Jeep Jamboree will have their vehicle evaluated, as well as themselves, to see which trail would work best to their abilities.
“We put them on the trails,” Ford said. “Each trail has guides familiar with the area.”
Riders will leave in tandem from the Kentucky Splashpark, he said.
“We’ve got this down to a science,” he said, adding weather is out of his control. “Barring rain or snow or other bad weather, we should return to Williamsburg by 5 p.m.”
He said 12 trails have been mapped out for this year’s event.
For those who feel “apprehensive,” Ford says there are several options they can take, particularly a lower, or easier ranked, trail.
He said it was “amazing” to watch the “newbies” (those who recently came into Jeep ownership and appreciation) see what the event has to offer and they can experience what they and their Jeep can do.”
Of course, there are some more challenging trails, and Ford said those are for the more experienced driver, “who knows what the blank is going on.”
Preparations for the weekend are already well under way.
“They’re starting to arrive — some are rolling in (Tuesday),” Ford said. “They’re preparing the trails.”
He said organizers check the trails “several times a year.”
“Right now they’re double-checking the shape of the trails,” Ford said. “They’ll go out and run the trails…and make sure they’re okay.”
Registration is at the tourism center at 5 p.m. Thursday night, Ford said, explaining that is where the driver and vehicle review will be conducted.
Some of the things to be asked include who would drive, what experience they have, and what kind of modifications have been completed, Ford explained.
From there, Jeep Jamboree participants learn the type of trail would be be suited for their experience.
“We kind of help them pick out the trails,” he said.
The alcohol-free event has the assistance of several medical professionals and law enforcement officers who will work as the Jamboree’s trail guides.
Those who are caught drinking will be forced to leave the event, Ford said.
Friday morning, those who have registered will get a “driver’s meeting,” where several local officials will welcome the crowds.
Right now Ford said more than 180 Jeeps have been registered for this weekend’s jamboree.
“We’ve got 180-plus Jeeps this weekend, and that represents about 315 people,” Ford said, adding once those Jeeps get lined up, police escorts provide “tremendous help” in ensuring the safety of the participants.
“When we leave the Splashpark we’ve got a good caravan of Jeeps,” Ford said, explaining there will be two parade groups. About 80-100 of them will head toward Jellico, Tenn., and the remaining Jeeps will head toward Red Bird and Jellico Creek. “We almost need the police escort.”
Ford’s been involved in this for nearly 25 years and is the coordinator for the state of Kentucky. He said he’s been across the United States at different Jamborees in various capacities.
“I can say clearly, without hesitation,” Ford said. “(That) we’ve never been to a facility or a city that’s any better, anywhere — you can tell they want us there.”
These Jeep events occur at several places across the country, he added.
“This is the biggest Jamboree in the country this year,” Ford said.
And he said the season descending on the area makes the Jamboree’s location “unusual.”
“There’s no other area in the world that’s more beautiful than in the fall of the year,” he said.
He also offered much appreciation for the area’s hospitality.
Ford was especially thankful for the hard work of local officials, including Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, Judge/Executive Pat White Jr., and Alvin Sharpe, director of Williamsburg Tourism.
“They have been a great asset to our location and (help to see) that everything is as smooth as possible,” Ford said. “You know how it’s said in the south ‘it feels like home?’ — well it feels like home for us.”
He also wanted to thank the landowners who allow the Jeep Jamboree to cross their properties.
For those wanting to ride the trails, Ford only has one request.
“No Nissans, no Toyotas, and no trucks,” Ford laughed.
The Jeep Jamboree runs Thursday through Saturday. For more information or for the schedule of events for the three days, visit the website at http://jeepjamboreeusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/28-Gateway2013.pdf.
By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
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