The 5th annual Toledo Jeep Fest just wrapped up, and it certainly was an eventful one. Jeep Fest is held annually in Toledo, Ohio in early August. This year, the weekend-long event took place from August 12-15. In 2016, the first Toledo Jeep Fest was a one-day event that saw the participation of approximately 40,000 people. Fast forward to this year, and the multi-day event hosted an estimated 70,000 people.
Participants and registered Jeep owners came from at least 37 states to join the fun. International participants from Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands also made the trek. The weekend is stuffed with everything from live concerts to kid zones, and there’s something for every age Jeep enthusiast.
The Lay Of The Land
We’ve covered the Toledo Jeep Fest in past years, and this year was definitely bigger and better. In the past, we made the trip to nearby Monroe, Michigan to start things off. Monroe is the site of the Monroe Superstore Jeep dealership, where Jeepers from all over the country are hosted by the Glass City Crawlers club. There is an off-road course, food vendors, and good times to be had at the party. It took place on August 12 and was the official kick-off for the weekend. It is always a good time but this year we took a different approach.
Instead, we decided to start things off with the short trip to the Adams Street Invasion. Car crushing, an RTI (Ramp Travel Index) ramp, balance block opportunities, and a raffle were going on. There were also giveaways, vendors, Jeep photo opportunities, and a DJ. All of this was in addition to food specials at local restaurants and local food trucks.
Toledo Jeep Fest Highlight: 1951 Willys CJ3A
Once we got things started, it was time for the downtown Toledo events. On August 13, more than 1,400 Jeeps staged at a local business for the parade of Jeeps. While cruising around and checking out all of the cool Jeeps we also made time to chat with a couple of owners. One of those owners was Matthew Chiles. He is the proud owner of a 1951 Willys CJ3A. The vintage Jeep was meticulously restored by him and was originally taken all the way down to the frame. “My friend’s dad started it but then he passed. My friend was going to sell it. I told him that if they were going to sell it, then I would buy and finish it.” Matt explains.
We asked about how Matt came to be aware of Jeep Fest. He shared that he first heard about it through social media. He is from about an hour south of Toledo and wanted to bring the Jeep back to where it was originally built. Matt also expanded by saying, “I came last year too. Since this year represents the 80th year of the Jeep, it just seemed like a good fit.”
We also asked about what draws him to these old Jeeps. “It’s the simplicity of them. They are what they are. They are just utilitarian and I love that about them. When I got it, I knew it was a full restoration, but I love that they are locally built,” he explains. Matt was excited to see the larger-than-ever vendor midway as well as the displays in the Glass City Center. “It’s always a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Everyone is nice and friendly. Plus, you get to see cool Jeeps drive around all day,” he says.
Toledo Jeep Fest Attracts New Blood
Otis Roundtree is the owner of a 1988 Grand Wagoneer. His nephew, BJay Roundtree, happened to be by the ride when we came upon it. Otis was off checking out some other Jeeps staged for the parade at the same time. We spoke with BJay about his uncle’s Jeep and how his passion for the brand has affected him.
He shared that his uncle’s Jeep was built in the same year that he was born. That created a connection for him. “I was never really into Jeeps. This is the first year that I have ever come down here for Jeep Fest. I live here in Toledo and used to work with a Jeep supplier but I’ve never really gotten into Jeeps. Now, I’m going to get my Jeep for next year. We’re working on one for me for next year right now,” he admits.
BJay also talked to us about how this Wagoneer was his uncle’s vision. “He wants people to get his vision. He wanted to catch their eye instead of having the same old thing. That’s why he got this. It’s his vision and I’m proud of him. This is something he wanted to do and he made it happen,” he says.
What’s Happening At Jeep Fest
As the parade went on, it was time to head on to some additional festivities. The first experience we came across was the outdoor park and shine show. Jeeps of all eras could be viewed.
From there we set about heading over to the newly renovated Glass City Center. This was the site of multiple indoor exhibits featuring WWII-era Jeeps, Jeeps on snow tracks, and the ever-popular 7 Slot Collectibles. Live guest speakers from some of the most important companies related to Jeep and the Toledo area provided industry insight. When not taking in the sights, shopping, or listening, we took time out to do some RC rock crawling.
After we had our fill in the Glass City Center we stopped to pet a few dogs and headed to the vendor midway. On the way, we passed the Kids’ Zone at Festival Park and the Family Zone at Hensville Park. Live Bands, entertainment, and some pretty impressive inflatables greeted us.
Toledo Jeep Fest Finale
A lot of the events that we go to tend to wind down early on the last day. Toledo Jeep Fest is a bit different. Whether you were relaxing at the Metroparks campground next to the Maumee River or participating in the walk on Sunday morning, things were happening. For those that were so inclined, there was even a four-mile run to get the blood pumping. Regardless of whether you wanted downtime, or the chance to see the things you missed on Saturday, all things Jeep were still happening that final morning.
The Best Jeep Fest Yet
Being a Toledo-area native provides a different perspective on this event. It wasn’t too long ago that no Jeep-specific events took place here in Toledo. There was a lot of talk about how we should have something but no one was doing anything. Since the first event in 2016 Toledo Jeep Fest has generated millions of dollars for our local community. Hotels, entertainment, restaurants, and even short-term rentals all benefit from the influx of Jeep enthusiasts. The estimated economic impact from the event this year is expected to be around five million dollars.
Jerry Huber has been instrumental in the creation of the Toledo Jeep Fest. He is a former plant manager at Jeep and is a Toledo Jeep Fest Board member. “This was our best event yet,” says Jerry. “We are celebrating our love of a vehicle, but the event is about people who build Jeeps and people who love them. There’s no better place to do that than the city where the Jeep was invented, and where its heart beats every day.”
The economic benefits extend past just the local area as well. The vendors that participate in the event along the vendor midway will take their earnings back to their hometowns all over the country. This year there were more than 70 vendors on the row. They came from all over the U.S. to get in on the action. “When we talk to the vendors, they are thrilled with their experience at Toledo Jeep Fest. Customization is a big part of the Jeep culture, and our visitors love to talk shop on the Vendor Midway,” Huber says.
Jeep Fest Is All About Community
The Midwest is famous for its community focus and good vibes. The Toledo Jeep Fest continues that legacy. “Once again this year, our community and sponsors have been amazing,” says Whitney Rofkar, Event Director for Toledo Jeep Fest. “It’s rewarding to see how this vision has grown, and how both the Toledo community and the Jeep community have lent their support to make this happen.” There is a strong belief in this community that the Toledo Jeep Fest will only get bigger and better. If you are interested in getting in on the fun, download the official event app, visit the website, and make plans to attend next year.