Iowa State Fair Prep Begins For Lawn Parking Homeowners

DES MOINES, Iowa -- When it comes to parking at the Iowa State Fair, location can mean big big bucks for Des Moines homeowners on 29th and Capitol Avenue.

"Being a block away from the gate, it's a very busy place," said Isaac Swieter, who lives along the block.

Less than 48 hours away from the 2017 Iowa State Fair, homeowners like Swieter and Allen Chapman have turned lawn parking into a decades-old tradition.

"I've been doing this for a total of about 30 years," said Chapman.

For Swieter, the tradition was born out of necessity.

"I was new to the neighborhood," he said. "I went to work Friday morning and came back Friday night to my complete yard and driveway completely covered in cars, nobody around, nobody gave me any money, and I didn't have a place to park my own vehicle."

Fast forward 13 years and Isaac is a regular lawn parking professional.

"Hopefully 14 years will end without a dent or scratch.  Thirteen years clean and hoping for a 14th year clean."

The 10-day job can be demanding.

"We work from 7:30 to 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock in the morning.  If there's a car in my yard, I'm here," said Chapman.

This forces them to clear their schedules not to attend the fair, but so others can enjoy the event.  Chapman said, "Vacation time every year. I take two weeks off.  I work during vacation time."

They've experienced fairgoers who have driven from Alaska, California, and West Virginia, but they say the most memorable patrons are the ones they see grow up over the years.

"He was in a car seat the first time I met him and last year he drove his own car to the fair," said Chapman.

The extra cash flow can be worth the long hours, but Chapman says the state requires a six percent sales tax on the parking fees.

"We log it very carefully and keep good track of it and make sure the state is getting their cut that they believe they deserve for it."

While their work is done outside the gates, the tradition has given the community a certain pride that comes out every year during the Iowa State Fair.

"It's about the only time you really get to see your neighbors.  Everybody is at home and normal life is busy nine to five, so it's an awesome time to reconnect with your neighbors."

Residents say they work together to set prices so there are no parking feuds during the fair.  They say business is best when the weather is in the mid-80s and sunny.