EDITOR'S NOTE: On the Natchez Trace Parkway, most people have long known that commercial vehicles aren't allowed. But that doesn't stop some truckers and other vehicles from sneaking onto the Trace and trying to use it as a shortcut. WTVA's Mike Russell spent much of Thursday with the chief ranger of the Parkway, and filed this report.
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - "Shortcut" is the key word. The overwhelming majority of commercial vehicles are generally trying to get from Point A to Point B just a little faster. You can't really blame them - that's why a lot of people use the Trace. Still, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a national park, all 444 miles of it -- and commercial drivers are supposed to know better. They're a huge problem on the Trace. Just from Tupelo to Eupora, rangers stopped 400 trucks in 2017. On the Parkway itself, rangers handed out more than 300 tickets.
"It's really a huge issue for us right now," says Chief Ranger Sarah Davis. "We've seen a dramatic uptick in the last several years about tractor trailers getting on the Parkway."
Safety is one of the primary issues. The Trace just isn't designed for wide loads in those narrow lanes. But weight is an issue, too.
"The Natchez Trace Parkway is a recreational highway," says Ranger Scott Galbraith. "It's not supposed to bear the weight and loads that these semi-trucks are bringing onto the Parkway. And in fact, many of our bridges are having to be repaired ahead of schedule because of all the weight that's caused such destruction."
Since the Trace was established as a Federal highway 80 years ago, it's been illegal for commercial vehicles to be on the Trace. And now, the National Park Service has installed updated signs to make it perfectly clear what kind of vehicles aren't allowed. A classic example, as I was gathering information for this story, two professional drivers hauling two halves of a double-wide trailer got off I-22 onto the Trace. But then realizing their mistake, they immediately got back on I-22 headed back the other way. Good thing, too. Technically, it's a violation of the law. By turning around back on the interstate, they avoided a $250 ticket.
Another example, U-Haul-style moving trucks are prohibited from because of their advertising.
For more information, visit the Natchez Trace Parkway website (click here).
Also, if you'd like to report commercial activity on The Trace, call 800-300-PARK (7275) and be prepared to provide information about the location, direction of travel, and any other identifying truck features.