Park preps for 13,000 dogs and 20,000 humans

Twister, a yellow Labrador retriever, dives after a ball his owner, Anita Baker of Galion, Ohio, just tossed into the lake. Water play is all part of the fun for pooches attending the WAG! Dog Festival.
Twister, a yellow Labrador retriever, dives after a ball his owner, Anita Baker of Galion, Ohio, just tossed into the lake. Water play is all part of the fun for pooches attending the WAG! Dog Festival.

(Posted Aug. 18, 2016)

By Christine Bryant, Staff Writer

On a warm August day each year, thousands of dogs descend upon Prairie Oaks Metro Park, ready to take a dip in the pond, take a stroll on pet-friendly trails and sample fresh treats.

It’s an event that is a sight to behold—especially for pet lovers—and this year’s Wag! Dog Festival promises to be another fun time for dogs and their people.

Prairie Oaks will once again host the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 20 in the Darby Bend Lakes area of the park, 2755 Amity Road, Hilliard. The free event includes booths, demonstrations, programs and contests.

Guests also will meet experts from area rescue groups to learn about the best four-legged match for their home, and an ice castle will provide a cool canine respite on what is typically a warm afternoon. Disc demonstrations, dog agility demonstrations and dock diving also will take place, said Mike Poleway, who oversees marketing for the event.

Last year’s event drew nearly 13,000 dogs and 20,000 people, up from 2007 when the event was first held and attracted about 1,000 dogs and 3,800 human visitors.

“As the region’s largest event of its kind, WAG! Dog Festival is a perfect day’s adventure for dogs and people together,” Poleway said.

Pulling off a one-day event of this magnitude is no small task and requires cooperation and partnership from all sides. Tom Cochran, park manager for Prairie Oaks, says while the event is not organized by Metro Parks, its success is in part due to the efforts of dozens of staff members who play an important role before, during and after the festival.

Planning for the event is year-round, with maintenance staff tasked with keeping the areas of the park used for the event groomed, as well as mapping out the parking areas that hold thousands of cars.

About a week before the event, crews make sure there are plenty of pet waste bags and picnic tables on hand, and on the day of the festival, maintenance team members help clean up, empty pet waste and refill cooling stations for pets, Cochran said.

“The maintenance guys do a fabulous job prepping for the event and keeping the area looking good during the event,” he said.

Naturalists and a group of volunteers also are on hand providing programming and promoting Metro Parks, he said.

“Then we have rangers solely to deal with traffic, crowd control and parking,” Cochran said. “Twelve to 13 rangers work that day just for the event alone.”

After the thousands of dogs and their humans leave the park, Metro Parks staff pitch in to help clean up. Though it sounds like a tall order, Cochran said because crews help maintain the park during the event, it only takes a few hours to return the park to what it looked like before vendors arrived.

Knowing how much of a draw an event such as this would be in the community, Cochran said parks officials were thrilled to partner with WAG! to provide a home for the festival.

“We wanted to have a marquee event that could be identified with the parks,” he said. “When we started talking about this with the staff, we wanted to do something that has never been done before with the parks.”

As a pet-friendly park, Prairie Oaks was the logical choice for a location. The event also has drawn central Ohio residents—and those from out of the area—who have never been to the park.

“It has brought people into the park who never knew the park existed and had a beach area,” Cochran said. “A lot of people travel from all over two to three counties to come in.”

Admission to WAG! is free. No pets other than dogs are permitted, and all dogs visiting must be current with vaccinations. Each dog must display license and rabies tags. Dogs must be well socialized and must be kept on a leash except when at the Water Bark Beach swim area. Leashes should be no longer than six feet, and retractable leashes are discouraged.

Other rules for pet owners are outlined on the event’s website,, where additional information about the festival may be found as well.

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