Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Welcome to Mudville.
Beginning Wednesday, Mud Creek Off-Road Park – off U.S. Hwy 79 between Jacksonville and New Summerfield – will host the five-day High Lifter Mud Nationals, attracting throngs of participants while helping fill the coffers of Jacksonville and surrounding cities.
“It's going be really good,” said Peggy Renfro, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
“I've been visiting hotels locally, and they've been booked for several months – in the past, restaurants have hired extra staff during that time, and convenience stores and retail stores get busier. And of course the gas sales get really busy,” she said. “Not only are they filling up Mud Creek, but as I understand, there's a group preparing to stay at River Run (ATV Park between Jacksonville and Frankston), so they're benefitting from the Mud Nationals.”
This economic boost even spreads to surrounding areas, she added.
“Towns like Hender-son, Tyler and Rusk (are feeling the impact because of) the places people have stayed because all our local hotels are booked,” Renfro said.
Jacksonville City Manager Mo Raissi said the popular event “benefits the city every time it's hosted.”
And the numbers reflect that.
“We look at our sales tax (receipts) monthly, and when we see an increase, we want to know what it's coming from,” he said.
“It's pretty good numbers (and) we're attributing it to the Mud Nationals. There could be something else helping it, but that's the only big event happening at that time.”
In 2012, the May sales tax allocation of $351,315.76 – money spent by consumers in March and reported by the State Comptroller's Office to the city in May – reflected a $112,248.80 increase over the April allocation, while the 2011 figures – $327,561.45 allocated in May versus $228,742.44 in April – reflects an increase of $98,819.01.
As a result, the mudding event brings a smile to more than just the participants.
“We're happy about this event, and we welcome the folks here in our community,” Raissi said. “I feel most of the local businesses benefit; it's a good thing.”
Mud Creek park is a 3,700-acre site located at 3971 CR 4209 with room for 75 RV hookups, tent camping, indoor restrooms and showers, an event barn and a power wash rack, according to the park's website.
Because the park fills up quickly before the event, surrounding businesses that offer an overnight stay are handling the overflow.
Jesse Rowley, owner of the Shady Pines RV Park located just up the highway from Mud Creek Park, said participants were booking spots at her place as early as last summer.
“They start calling the summer before, because they want to make sure they get a spot,” she said, adding that Shady Pines has 56 spots, a good number of them leased by crews working on the Keystone pipeline. “We have eight to 10 set aside for the Mud Nationals, and it's usually the same people (who book them).”
Rowley said there are often more people calling in than they can accommodate, but Shady Pines does have a waiting list. “It's the same people who try to secure spots here every year – they look forward to (the Mud Nationals) and they plan for it, it's their vacation.”
While the event draws people from throughout the area, there also are participants coming in from Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as Canada and other foreign countries.
“We see a lot of Canadians,” Rowley said. “People are coming in from all over, it's a big thing.”
Mubarak Ali, assistant manager of the Valero gas station and convenience store in New Summerfield, just east of the mud park, agreed.
“They come from all over – Canada, Australia, France, Ireland … it's surprising to see,” he said. “The (event) starts on Wednesday and we'll get a lot of traffic from it. It gets very busy (because) we are the only gas station here.”
Best Western General Manager Vishall Aeron said the Jacksonville hotel has been getting reservations since the latter part of last year from people who come specifically for the mud nationals, helping fill the 53-room facility to capacity.
“It certainly helps (the hotel's bottom line), and it's really good for our city because of the tax money it brings in. Then we have people (spending money,) eating out and shopping in general. I'm sure places like Walmart and Chili's and other restaurants see (a positive boost) for sure,” Aeron said.
Renfro said international attention came “a couple of years ago, when a Canadian television crew came down – they rented and RV and came to Jacksonville to interview the mayor and several others, promoting Jacksonville, Texas.
“We thought it was pretty neat that we really stamped a mark not only for the tomato, but for mud,” said, calling it an unusual situation to be in.
“To have mud as a main factor of putting our city on the map is wonderful – people like to get away from the hustle and bustle, let their hair down … sure, this may be the first time for someone to be here, and it's an opportunity to showcase what we have so that hopefully, they'll come back. We want them to walk away knowing it's a fun, relaxing, friendly community. That has a little mud,” she laughed.