Jeep Fest 2024

A Jeep takeover and DIY obstacle course 

Photography by David James

If you’ve returned to your vehicle after a grocery store run to find a rubber duck (or many) stuck on your car, like Jason Rogers, you probably own a Jeep. Much like the familiar Jeep “wave” between drivers meeting on the road, this new craze has fellow Jeep owners placing a small rubber duck on another Jeep — one of the many traditions that make owning a Jeep special. Another way is Jeep meetups. To bring together local Jeep owners, Rogers founded Grand Haven Jeep Fest three years ago. 

This year’s annual meetup will debut a one-of-a-kind DIY obstacle course, right in downtown Grand Haven. To get in on the action, people must register by April 1, 2024.

“A lot of these (Jeep) events we attend around the country have obstacle course,” said Rogers. “But they’re built on areas where they can dump dirt… and you go to this offroad area.

The idea to create this in an urban setting, in a parking lot that is on the channel that leads to Lake Michigan, was really one of those things I fully expected I would be told ‘no.’” And Grand Haven did say no at first, but eventually conceded.

Rogers recalls driving home about four years ago from a Jeep event, thinking about how much he loved traveling to Jeep gatherings and wondering if he could make one happen in his hometown.

A young Jeep fan takes in the customizations

“I’m a building contractor, so this was kind of outside my element,” Rogers said. So, he decided to ask for help; “Within 24 hours we had all this support.” It was an email thread that went viral and connected him with his unofficial Jeep Fest planning committee.

The Rotary Club of Grand Haven already had a tradition of raffling off a Jeep, so when they were approached to partner with Jeep Fest, the decision was easily made. Due to its fast growth, Jeep Fest has chosen its own charity this year: The Children’s Advocacy Center of Ottawa County.

Jeeps lined up along a closed street

The DIY obstacle course

“Right along Harbor Street, which is where normally you would see all of the rides for the Coast Guard Festival, is where we will have a man-made obstacle course. It blew my mind that we were able to do that,” Rogers shared. “I was told no, that that just doesn’t work.” But Rogers asked the city to reconsider. “Well, you’ve already established that you use this space for entertainment-type things, and this is just different from what you’ve done, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” was Rogers’ rhetoric. He won his appeal.

Close-up of a Jeep’s front

“So that’s going to be very exciting to have,” he said. “We’ve started to try to draw maybe people that aren’t necessarily there in a Jeep, but they just wanted an event to come to.” The details of the obstacle course are still being worked out. “We’re still planning. It is a challenge because it’s in a parking lot. It’s not in an area where you can dig holes or y’know, mound a bunch of things up. It is unique and we’re working with multiple excavating companies, landscaping companies, concrete supply companies… How can we execute this in a manner that it can be set up in a small amount of time, like a day or two, and then be cleaned up in the same amount of time?” 

A black and purple “monster truck” Jeep

Due to its location, the Jeep obstacle course will be one long run with different obstacles. 

“Everybody’s Jeep is built to different levels. If they feel that something is too difficult, they’ll be able to bypass that. We’ll have teams there to do recovery for people that maybe get stuck or hung up on something — we’ll have people there to help them,” he said.

Other Jeep Fest entertainment will include music, games, kid’s tent, merchandise trailer, vendors, an installation area, and giveaways including the big Jeep one.

“This year we have more blocks; we go all the way back to Fourth Street. We have all the waterfront stadium, which is a huge area that has a stage and a sound system, and it sits literally on the water. We’ll have a lot of stuff going there.” The Odd Side Ales lot will be set up for vendors. “That allows us to have four to five times the number of vendors that we had before,” Rogers said.

A retro-customized yellow Overland Jeep

Rogers welcomes non-Jeep fans who may wander in, “…They want to talk, they want to bring their kids, they want to see the cool-looking Jeeps that kids think are monster trucks, and they can go and watch this all happen.”

Grand Haven Jeep Fest
Downtown Grand Haven
Saturday, May 18, 2024