- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - The United Kennel Club’s Autumn Oaks coonhound event doesn’t start until Thursday, but campers already are arriving at the Wayne County Fairgrounds and Richmond hotels are filling up rapidly.

“I’ve got 20 people on a waiting list as of right now,” said Sam Patel, owner of Richmond’s Days Inn.

Aaron Russell of Church Hill, Tennessee, and Junior Crabtree of Newport, Tennessee, come early to give their dogs a chance to stretch their legs before the hunting events Friday and Saturday nights. “We try to pleasure hunt” in preparation for the competition, Russell told the Palladium-Item (https://pinews.co/1qosFfX ).

The Autumn Oaks “hunt” is simulated. In accordance with UKC rules, no game is taken and no firearms are used.

A warm-up hunt organized by the Wayne County Coon Hunters Association will be Thursday night.

Bench shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Tom Raper Center. The public is invited to watch the judging at no charge.

Visitors also might enjoy a walk around the fairgrounds to see the many dogs, puppies for sale and vendors offering unique gear.

Lisa Hunziker of Pomona, Illinois, was setting out pens for puppies Monday. Some of the pups are for sale, and others will be picked up by new owners over the weekend. All are the children of Red Eagle Coming To Your City, a triple world show champion treeing walker coonhound.

Hunziker also comes early every year.

“It’s my vacation,” she said. “I like to bring the dogs out and talk to everybody.”

Another regular early bird was a bit disappointed by her reception at the fairgrounds. Louise Shearer and her husband travel from Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, and make it a habit to camp in the field across from the main fairgrounds the Saturday night before the event. The fairgrounds itself isn’t open to campers until noon Sunday.

The Shearers were able to stay in the field but, unlike in previous years, were not able to hook up to electricity there.

“We elected not to do that this year,” said fairgrounds director Don Wampler.

Louise Shearer said the change made her feel a little less welcome than usual. “Otherwise, we always love it here,” she said.

Wampler pointed out campers are not charged for setting up in the field. He said the fairgrounds is ready for its annual influx of hundreds of canine and thousands of human guests.

Organizers say the event routinely draws crowds of 15,000 to 20,000 on Friday and Saturday.

“I think Richmond should bring more events like this every year,” said Patel. “It brings a boost to the economy.”

Patel estimates the combination of Autumn Oaks and next weekend’s World 100 race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, will bring in enough revenue alone to pay his property taxes for the second half of the year.

One of Patel’s regular guests is Bob Tully of North Lawrence, Ohio. Tully has attended more than 40 Autumn Oaks events - including all 23 in Richmond.

When he started attending, the event moved locations every few years, but that pattern changed after the first Autumn Oaks in Richmond.

“We landed in Richmond, and we stayed in Richmond,” Tully said.

This year, he was accompanied by Nick Wenger of Navarre, Ohio. Wenger was injured in a head-on car collision in November 2013 and nearly died. Tully promised to bring him to Autumn Oaks if he survived.

Wenger said he’s looking forward to “just having fun … hanging out with good people and stuff.”

And, of course, the dogs.

___

Information from: Palladium-Item, https://www.pal-item.com


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