Can off-road fun, family values and charity work go hand-in-hand? Jeepin’ Central Florida sat down with Charles Scott, president of Trail Monkeys, a 60-banner club with members from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough County.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? How long you have been a Jeeper?
I am the assistant supervisor for the City of Largo Municipal Golf Course. I am also a licensed horticulture technician, which is my official title. I’ve worked for the city of Largo for 10 years. It is my home away from home. This is what funds my Jeep addiction. I am also the owner of Monkey Grips Paracord Accessories which is a result of my Jeep addiction.
I got my first Jeep in early 2012. It was handed down from my pop. We wanted to keep it in the family. My Jeep was all stock when I drove her from Pennsylvania to Florida. At that time I did not know a single person who was a Jeeper.
As a veteran Jeeper, what advice would you give to someone new to the activity?
The golden rule: Never wheel alone. There are so many things that can happen when you are in the woods. A perfect day can change in an instant, leaving you hurt, stranded and in trouble. Even the most prepared Jeepers could easily find themselves in a very difficult situation. I can’t stress enough to never go wheeling alone and be safe.
What is special or unique about your rig?
My rig is a 1990 Jeep Wrangler YJ. It has pretty much been stock since I have owned it. Most recently, I have installed 4-inch Rubicon Express leaf springs, 33-inch tires and, of course, a lot of LEDs. I have not upgraded axles or gears and do not have a locker yet, but I will wheel the hell out of it with the best of them! You don’t need the biggest, baddest Jeep around to have fun or to be one of the big boys.
Can you tell us a Jeeping lesson you had to learn the hard way?
Well, we all learn something when we are newbies. Mine would be to check the depth of the waterhole yourself before you blast through it. In my case we were on a ride and a friend walked through the waterhole to check the depth before I went through it. He must have been walking between the ruts because it didn’t look too bad. I still wasn’t sure if I should try it or go around.
Before I could make my decision, our friend shouted out to me, “Come on, Charlie, are you wearing your wife’s panties today?” So, with that, I went right into the water, right down in the ruts, and sank! The Jeep stalled. The water was up to the top of the seats. The water actually went into the gas fill tube and right into the tank. We had muddy water in the cooler!
My advice is, don’t be intimidated, but do get a snorkel and know what you are getting yourself into.
Please tell us a little about the Trail Monkeys.
Our group is based on friendship. We started as a small group of friends who liked to get together, wheel our Jeeps, and help each other work on them. We have grown into a large family. We are family-friendly and do family-oriented things. No one in our group has to worry that they can’t bring their kids, pets or friends. Everything we do, we do as a family.
Dawn and I have four kids ourselves. All are Jeepers and part of the Jeeping community. Our youngest son, Chandler, already has his eye on my Jeep when he turns 16! Besides Jeeping, we do so many other things to involve the families. School events and fundraisers, beach days and BBQs in the summers, and bowling and monster jam in the fall and winter are just a few.
We also take pride in the work we do for our community, such as our big annual holiday charity event. Our purpose is to bring likeminded people and families together. We are also showing our children in the group how important being involved in your community is. We are growing better future adults and leaders. We are showing them what family means and what it means to help your fellow man.
Our motto has always been “No Monkey left behind“ — whether it’s on the trail or in everyday life. Not everything is always Jeep-related. Sometimes life throws a curveball, and it is nice knowing we can count on our family and community.
How long has Trail Monkeys been around, and who were the charter members?
We officially became a club in October 2012. Our first official club event was Jeeptoberfest in Ocala. We had our original custom Trail Monkey shirts made especially for that event. We really turned heads. Our founders were myself, Dawn Scott, Tom Walters and Margaret Murray. At the time, we only had about eight other members besides the founders. We knew this would grow fast — and we sure did — but we have always kept our sense of family in the group.
How many members do you currently have, and what is the process to become a member?
We have 1,700 followers on our open Facebook page for Trail Monkeys 4×4. Most of those followers are local to Florida. We also have a “Bannered Members” page with 60 bannered members and their families. Each bannered member is from Pinellas, Pasco or Hillsborough County areas.
Because we want to maintain our sense of family, we do not focus on how many members or banners we can get. We know all of our bannered members and most of our followers. We ask that new potential members get to know us and we get to know them. We have a 30-day grace period for getting to know each other. We would not want anyone to put a banner on their Jeep to then discover we are not the right fit for them or for us to discover they are not the right fit for us.
We also require potential bannered members to attend at least two events and one trail ride. Once those requirements have been met, our board will take a vote to banner. We do not charge dues to our members. We decided that dues just aren’t the right thing for our club. If there are things we need, such as our banner or something we want to raise money for, we will hold a raffle or event to raise the money.
We take great pride in our Trail Monkey name. We like to know who is representing us and we want our members to feel confident that we are maintaining an upstanding image in the community. We have an amazing board that helps with monitoring the pages, planning events and working the events. Our board consists of myself, the president, my wife Dawn, our vice president, Steve Levine, Melissa Levine, Logan Templeton and Amanda Wilhite. They make a great team.
Nuts and Bolts
Charles Scott is the founder and president of the Trail Monkeys Jeep club, a licensed horticulture technician and owner of Monkey Grips Paracord Accessories. His 60-banner group focuses on:
- Family-friendly activities and events
- Local and regional charity work
- Outreach to other Jeep clubs
What sets your group apart from the other clubs?
Even though we are 95% made up of Jeeps, we are not a Jeep-only club. We have several other vehicles in the group. We feel the “Wheel what ya got” motto, and we don’t discriminate. We have Toyotas, Fords and even a Suzuki bannered. We love our family members no matter what they drive. That’s what sets us apart.
Do you have group trail rides?
We try to have at least one club ride per month. Logan Templeton and Stephen Lamonte are our trail ride coordinators. They help plan and schedule rides into our calendar. We also have members who will just throw together a ride just to get out. We have had times where there are several rides in a month and times that with all of the other events happening that it is difficult to get a ride together.
Are these trail rides available to Jeepers of all levels of experience?
Yes, most of our rides are okay for all levels of experience. If we host a ride that we feel may be a bit challenging for a new Jeeper, we will make sure that is posted, and if they decide they want the challenge, we make sure we have a more skilled Jeeper assist with spotting and coaching through the obstacles to ensure our new Jeeper has an enjoyable and safe ride.
Do you provide training for your members?
On each ride, we make sure we know who our new riders are and their skill level. We provide spotting and coaching before, during and after the rides to ensure our new members have a safe and enjoyable ride.
We have some members who are Community Emergency Response Team-certified, and we offer members who would like to join the CERT team the information they need to get started. I am also a first responder with the City of Largo and am CPR-certified. We teach our members how to recover properly and how to use their recovery gear.
What other type of activities do you have for your members?
Because we are a family-oriented club, we make sure we do many family-oriented events. We have several events that we do every year to give back to our communities.
Two of our favorite events are Wreaths Across America and Flags for the Fallen. These two events are very special to us. We started doing Wreaths Across America when one of our veteran members, Ron Mason, brought it to our attention. He used to own a motorcycle before his Jeep, and he would ride in the convoy each year to escort the wreaths from the Walmart Distribution Center to the Florida National Cemetery, where he would then help distribute the wreaths.
When he sold his motorcycle and got his Jeep, he still wanted to be involved with the event. It took a lot of convincing, but he finally convinced Walmart and the Veteran Motorcyclists to let us into the convoy with our Jeeps. Trail Monkeys 4×4 was invited for the first time ever to attend the convoy with the police, motorcycles, and semi-trucks to escort the wreaths. We place the flags at the cemetery each year on Memorial Day as well.
Besides our two favorite things, we also have a Thanksgiving Potluck, Trail Monkey Christmas Light ride and dinner, barbecues, beach days and so much more. We definitely have a busy calendar!
I know the Jeep community is very active in supporting charities. Does your group support any charities?
We as a club support several charities as well as many other clubs’ charity events. A few that we attend each year are Go Topless Day with The Caloosa Jeepers to raise money for Partners in Breast Cancer, Jeepin’ with Judd, Jeepin’ 4 Justice, Krawl’n for the Fallen, Jeeps vs Harleys, Jeeptoberfest, Jeep Beach and Jeepin’ for Toys.
In 2017, with the devastating storms, we helped with a few extra drives to get supplies to Texas, South Florida and Puerto Rico as well. Each year, our club holds a Holiday Charity Event and our members choose a charity for us to donate to. The first year was Wounded Warriors, our second year was Shriners Children’s Hospital, and our third year we chose Suncoast Hospice. Last year we held our event for The Humane Society of Pinellas.
Can you tell us about the Christmas Event your group held in 2017?
In 2017 we held our event for the Humane Society of Pinellas. We saw not only how much the storms affected people but also how devastating it was for the fur babies who lost everything — their families and their warm, dry homes — and then to suddenly be placed into an overcrowded shelter with limited resources that have been stretched thin. We work very hard to limit expenses so that we are able to donate everything we raise back. In 2017, we took in almost 1,000 lbs. of pet food and raised over $6,000!
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
We started this group several years ago. We have seen many come and go, but over the years, this community of Jeepers has come a long way. There was a time when the clubs stuck to themselves and there was not a lot of support among the groups, but now that has all changed. We have all worked very hard to get everyone together and realize we all want the same things. We have become amazing friends, an even bigger family and most of all we have fun, help our communities, and go wheeling!