Jeepin’ With Judd Keeps Moving On Through Uncertain Times
by James Coulter
Rich Hardway, the trail ride coordinator for Orlando Jeep Club, has been attending the Jeepin’ with Judd event in Bartow for the past seven years. He has used his expertise during that time to help design trails for participating vehicles to traverse.
Located within 18,000 of unadulterated Florida wilderness, Clear Springs Ranch offers enough wide-open spaces, rolling hills, and rugged terrain to allow more than 2,000 vehicles to splash through mud, climb over hills, and speed through dense forest for a good revving time outdoors.
Over the past seven years, this terrain has changed with the wind and weather. Some places have become submerged underwater due to heavy rain, while wind and soil erosion have worn many hills. Nevertheless, Rich always finds new and creative ways to blaze new off-road trails for the annual event.
“Nothing we have is man-made,” he explained. “It is all what we found on the ranch, so it changes as years go on. Some of the good stuff from early years is no longer here. It is underwater. And we are looking for other obstacles, different places, better places to take everybody to give them a good experience.”
He worked with 175 volunteers last weekend to ensure that everything ran smoothly. With this year’s event being hosted during uncertain times, they had to enforce new policies to guarantee that everyone enjoyed a safe and healthy experience.
Rich was impressed by the next contactless check-in system that ensured that people did not have to wait in long lines or spread any potential germs during the registration process. And while camping was no longer allowed, he was still impressed by the crowds that arrived for the day.
He owes the overall success to the location. Clear River Ranch offers the best landscape for off-roading adventure, and he and his team enjoy being able to design new and exciting paths and trails for attendees to traverse.
“If it weren’t for this ranch, this event would not be what it is,” he said. “There are few places where you can come out and do this event with this much property…Unlike some other events more driven for vendors, this is a trail ride event. Vendors are great, but there is a lot of riding to do here.”
More than 2,000 Jeep vehicles turned out for the annual Jeepin’With Judd event last weekend. Attendees could venture off-road across more than 18,000 acres of rugged terrain located at Clear Springs Ranch in Bartow.
Spectators could watch from atop a hill participating vehicles off-road along slopes, across mud puddles, and through dense woodland. They could also peruse many of the vendors and food trucks to purchase Jeep-related merchandise and even check out a few Jeep vehicles from a local dealership.
Jeepin’ With Judd is an annual charity event for Polk Sheriff Charity, with proceeds going toward scholarships and other projects to help the sheriff’s office benefit the local community, explained Alicia Manautou, Public Information Officer.
“We are just excited for the opportunity to provide resources back into the community, to be able to use the funds that have been collected here for Polk County Sheriff’s Office to better our community,” she said.
To help ensure the health and safety of participants during these uncertain times, extra precautions were implemented for this year’s event, including contactless check-in. Even with the added procedures, this year’s event drew in a decent turnout.
“It is impressive how everyone has pulled together to make this event successful,” Anita said. “Things are running smoothly. I think it will be the best event that we had thus far. This is our seventh year. Everyone is happy. Our event t-shirts are almost sold out, and this will be the best event we had thus far.”
For the past seven years, Jeepin’ With Judd has proven to be a popular success, no doubt in part due to the titular event being named after Sheriff Grady Judd. His involvement and endorsement of it have drawn the interest of people from all across the county and even the state and country.
“With Sheriff Judd on the event, it gives us a bit of positive branding. He is so well known. People come over the nation to just be here because it is the Jeepin’ with Judd event,” she said.