Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Local public safety officials say they want attendees of this week's High Lifter ATV Mud Nationals to have fun, but to keep safety in mind above all.
“We want people to have a good time, but to also ensure their safety – they want to make sure their load is secure, that everyone is buckled up and make sure that no one is drinking and driving,” said Texas DPS Trooper Jean Dark, the public information officer for the Tyler District Department of Public Safety office.
The five-day event, which began Wednesday, is held annually at Mud Creek Off-Road Park, off U.S. Hwy 79 between Jacksonville and New Summerfield.
During this period, troopers patrolling that stretch of U.S. 79 will be “working their routine duties, (watching) for seatbelt violators and intoxicated motorists,” she said.
“We know that when there is going to be increased traffic in the area, we try to increase the visibility of troopers in that area” to ensure motorists' safety, Dark said. “We want the public to understand that (when this happens), it increases their chance of encountering additional law enforcement to handle the traffic increase.”
New Summerfield Police Chief Andrew Strom said the Mud Nationals don't really add to the volume of work done by members on his force, who are accustomed to dealing with higher volumes of traffic from oilfield workers traveling through the area.
“It's really nothing out of the ordinary,” Strom said. “We (look at it) as a holiday travel weekend, not much different than Christmas or Thanksgiving – we know the traffic will be increased then, so we just prepare ourselves.”
He did say that on Saturday, because of the Beauty and the Beast bike tour rolling through the area, officers are reminding people of potential traffic tie-ups.
“They might consider an alternative route that day,” Strom said, adding that city workers will be setting out signs and cones, “doing everything possible” to ensure safe travel in that area.
“We hope everybody has a safe weekend,” he said.
Because the Mud Nationals are a self-contained event, with organizers providing on-site medical care and meeting other safety needs, Jacksonville Fire Capt. Kevin McKinney said that the only role his department plays “is EMS back-up.”
“They have a medic on site, but no ambulance – that's the way it's been in the past,” he said. “They'll call us or East Texas EMS (as needed), but there (traditionally) have been very few runs, so it's hard to say.
“Most people don't call unless it's serious, and generally, if we're going out there, it's because it's some type of fracture,” he added.
To ensure travelers in that area have a smooth experience, Trooper Dark advised drivers to “take some common-sense approaches to what they're doing.
“Use all the safety (precautions). Watch your speed. Buckle up. Drive with more awareness. And anyone who spots a potential hazard, contact 911,” she said.
Any thing law enforcement can to help drivers arrive safely to their destination – especially by avoiding drinking and driving – “every little bit helps,” Dark said.