Charlottesville, VA: Sunshine at Camp Jeep came in the liquid version on Saturday. But for the thousands of dyed-in-the-wool Jeepsters that attended the final day of this year's DaimlerChrysler 4X4 extravaganza, they wouldn't have wanted it any other way. After all, as many off-roaders will tell you, four-wheelin' doesn't even get good until you have rivers of mud.
Well they got it, and they made the most of it: filling all trail rides and testing their rigs to the limit. Back at Camp Jeep central, the rain put only a slight damper on things. Within minutes of the first drops being felt, the Jeep Provision shop sold out their entire supply of plastic rain ponchos. For others, plastic trash bags were transformed into stylish wet-weather gear. Once covered, campers resumed activities with a near-vengeance. In fact, it seemed that the rain actually enhanced the thrill-perception of the Adventure Tower and Polaris ATV rides.
For those that wanted more structured cover, there were plenty of interesting and fun things to do under the many big tents: the crafts workshops did a land-rush business; the museum and Jeep Engineering exhibits had campers forgetting all about the weather; and the cooking, gardening, and off-roading seminars were continuously SRO. By the way, at the museum, Jeep had their two latest concept cars on display: the Jeepster and the Icon. Both were getting an incredible amount of attention.
I had the opportunity to talk with, and videotape, Lou Batoni, Jeep's Global Marketing & Brand Manager. Lou's the man responsible for creating and managing this annual event (as well as Jeep's other Customer Appreciation Programs, such as Jeep Jamboree. He told me that it takes the entire year to plan and organize Camp Jeep. I'm not surprised, as the entire event is fabulously orchestrated and conducted. What did surprise me is that his full-time staff is just 25 people (although there are several hundred that work during the days and days surrounding the event). Lou said that the reason behind creating Camp Jeep was to give more Jeep owners the opportunity to discover the full potential and joys of owning a 4X4 vehicle. Jeep Jamborees, which have long been great successes, can usually only accommodate a hundred people or so. He wanted something that could attract and serve a much bigger group. This year's Camp Jeep was again fully sold out, which meant that they had 2,500 vehicles registered and he expects that finals totals would show nearly 10,000 people attending. By the way, the cost per vehicle (tickets are sold on that basis) is just $295 for all three days. This includes all the trail rides, workshops, seminars, hikes, and the Saturday night picnic dinner and concert. For a family of four, that works out to less than $75 per person (of course lodging and other meals are not included).
Lou's biggest news was that next year's Camp Jeep will probably be held in the West (the first four camps were staged in Colorado and the last three in Virginia). So for all of you on my side of the country (the sunny side), you might want to contact your local Jeep dealer right away in order to get your reservations in.
I may have been the only person in camp disappointed by the rain, as I had to cancel my kayaking and GPS Navigation hike. But, the fun of people watching more than made up for it.
Without question, Camp Jeep is a terrific idea and a wonderful way for Jeep to thank its customers while building a stronger repoire with the market. It's so well run, and so clean, the best compliment that I can pay to Lou and Jeep, is that it's as if it were run by Disney - but at just a fraction of what Disney would charge. If you own a Jeep and you're into off-roading, or just the off-road lifestyle, you must attend these events: if not every year, at least once every couple of years.
I do remember that it was always sad to leave camp. Although I've only been here for a few days, there's still a twinge of that remorse. But just like nearly 40 years ago (the last times I went to summer camp), I can now look forward to next year at Camp Jeep. Gosh, if I knew the camp song, assuming there is one, I'd start singing it.
Marc J. Rauch Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher