While many local residents look forward to Waukee’s summer festivals and events, most are likely unaware of the extensive preparation that goes into each event throughout the preceding year.
Lead organizers from several of the area’s staple summer activities discussed with us the behind-the-scenes work necessary to pull off the fun-filled and well-attended events.
If you happen to run into one of the local volunteers or city employees who help make these events possible, be sure to express your appreciation. These activities contribute to Waukee’s quality of life, making it one of the most desirable places to live in Iowa.
Celebrate Waukee (June 2)
Held in Centennial Park, this annual event officially kicks off the summer season, bringing people together to celebrate the town, schools and local businesses. The daylong celebration includes festivities like a pancake breakfast, 5K run, face painting and inflatables, and ends with evening fireworks.
Celebrate Waukee was originally called Waukee Fest. The Waukee Leadership Institute’s class of 2015 decided to rebrand and restructure the event with the help of the city and others in the community. Their first run at the celebration was held during the summer of 2016.
The following year, Waukee Community Festivals — a 501(c)3 non-profit group — took on Celebrate Waukee in hopes of growing the event and putting the profits back into the community.
While the nonprofit’s board of five now does most of the planning, Jerry Slaughter, the Waukee Community Festivals Committee chair, said it takes nearly 60 people to help make the event run smoothly.
Their checklist includes requesting sponsorships, looking for musical acts and acquiring a permit and/or license for the beer garden and fireworks. The board starts making arrangements in September or October of the year before the event.
Slaughter would like to see Celebrate Waukee evolve in a way that embraces the city’s growing, diverse community.
“Having more people of different ethnicities in town presents an opportunity to welcome and learn about different cultures,” he said. “We would like to find more ways to bring people together and get to know one another in an entertaining atmosphere.”
Waukee Arts Festival (July 14)
The Waukee Arts Festival might not be what it is today if Cody Kilgore, president of the Waukee Area Arts Council, hadn’t been told he couldn’t do it.
“I really dislike being told I can’t do something. That became a ‘hold my beer’ moment for me, and we were off and running,” he said.
The idea for the festival came together when fundraising efforts for the Waukee Area Arts Council started to suffer.
“We were looking at creating an event that would have a large impact and raise funds for the organization,” said Kilgore. “It was kicked around in several board meetings for a while. Everyone thought it was a great idea, but we also knew it was going to be a huge project and we didn’t know where to start.”
During its first year, the Waukee Arts Festival showcased 23 artists on a Sunday afternoon. “I spent about three months nearly begging artists to join and arranging the food, music and other vendors and courting sponsors,” said Kilgore.
Preparing for the arts festival continues to be a large undertaking. Kilgore said that he and the board of directors never really stop planning for it.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he explained. “A lot of time is spent building the artist base, finding the musicians to play, and arranging the concert band and sound production. Then we look at food. We want it to be unique. Once those pieces are in place, we fill in the details of support logistics, like recycling and refuse systems, extra restrooms, tents, golf carts for shuttles, signage, parking, mapping out artist spaces, civic organizations we want to invite to exhibit and support, and promoting the event.”
Kilgore said they’re already planning for 2019 concert acts, too. “We’re working with bands that require booking far in advance,” he said. “We’re also looking at working with another organization that will improve our recruitment of artists from across the Midwest and the country. So, we may begin accepting applications for the 2019 festival as early as a week or two after the 2018 event is over.”
Waukee Fourth of July (July 4)
Danae Edwards, recreation supervisor for the city of Waukee, has seen Fourth of July attendance grow as more people move to the western suburbs. Because of the newcomers, the Parks and Recreation board is always looking for ways to make the event more attractive. Next year, that includes the addition of a carnival, which will replace inflatable activities. They also pushed the start of the parade back to 3 p.m. so little ones can have their nap time before lining the streets.
Danae said planning for the event begins in early January, and it takes a village to coordinate the fireworks display at the end of the night. The Fourth of July team consists of several full-time staff members, a special-events team with about two people from Parks and Recreation, police, fire, city administration, marketing and communications and public works, as well as nine board members and about five part-time staff and volunteers.
Organizing the event begins with coordinating logistics at the start of the day, from lining up parade participants to navigating road closures and ensuring police are situated at each intersection on the route. Next is planning for all the vendors to set up in Centennial Park, along with the inflatables, a band, the stage, and the grand finale—the fireworks.
Edwards said the event is meaningful to her because “it’s a great way for the city of Waukee to give residents an event to create traditions and memories.”
Waukee Farmer’s Market (Every Wednesday from June 6 through Sept. 26; 4-7 p.m.)
Des Moines’ downtown farmer’s market is one of the best in the country. But if residents don’t want to make the drive and/or maneuver the crowded streets, they can still scoop up some locally grown produce in Waukee’s farmer’s market in the downtown triangle.
The family-friendly market is managed by local businesses that take turns overseeing the event week-to-week. Planning typically begins at the beginning of the year and involves contacting vendors to participate, scheduling live music, and working with the Parks and Recreation department on street closings.
To participate in the market, vendors are required to grow at least 51 percent of their produce. In addition to fresh veggies, residents can find floral arrangements, baked goods, specialty items, crafts, prepared food and various other items. Attending the Waukee Farmer’s Market is a great way to check out some of the area’s mom-and-pop shops, too.
Lyn Schafer, owner of Classic Floral Design in Waukee, said she hopes the farmer’s market continues to cultivate an atmosphere in which local families can enjoy themselves.