Park it!

Planning the perfect picnic

By Kristen Wicker
Photo: Five Rivers MetroParks shelters can be rented for family BBQs and get-togethers

When it comes to picnics, Five Rivers MetroParks employees are your resident experts. After all, picnics combine two of our favorite things: food and the outdoors. And parks, we must say, are the best places for picnics.

To give your picnic some extra pizazz, consider renting a Five Rivers MetroParks shelter. As of this year, you can rent all 44 park shelters to ensure your exclusive use. The open-air shelters are popular for events ranging from casual BBQs to company outings, birthday parties and family reunions. The semi-private shelters come with tables, grills and mowed play areas. Some include electricity, water and other amenities, such as equipment so you and your crew can enjoy horseshoes, cornhole, volleyball and other games. For details or to rent a shelter, please visit or call 937.275.PARK. Shelters that haven’t been rented can be used on a first-come, first-served basis, free of charge.

In addition, most Five Rivers MetroParks facilities have picnic tables and grassy areas perfect for enjoying nature with your nourishment. With miles of hiking trails, bikeways and water trails in your parks, it’s easy to find an even more remote area where you can chomp your chow outdoors.

Whether you rent a shelter for a special event, grab some carry-out and head to a park, or plan to eat your lunch trailside from a backpack, below are some tips from our staff experts to make sure your next picnic is the best ever.


Lucy Sánchez 

Outdoor Recreation Event Coordinator

While the food is cooking, have an old fashioned field day. You don’t need fancy equipment to hold wheelbarrow, relay and three-legged races or to add dodge ball to the mix. A picnic also is a great time to geocache, an outdoor treasure-hunting game in the parks. (Visit for info.)

Or, work your picnic into an outing in the park. One of my favorite picnicking memories is taking my niece hiking at Possum Creek MetroPark on the purple trail, which runs through the Argonne Forest. We packed our wicker basket with crackers, cheese, summer sausage and watermelon. The forest, in the 1930s and early 1940s, was home to an amusement park that included a swimming pool, ball diamond, race track, cabins and more. My niece loved finding the remnants of the old amusement park. We danced on the old ballroom floor and enjoyed our feast midway through the hike.


Doug Horvath

Education Supervisor, Outdoor Connections

Picnics are not limited to the middle of the day. A moonrise or sunset can be the perfect time to share a meal outdoors with friends and family. Just imagine that western sunset reflecting off the golden brown of a chicken leg as you celebrate the good life outdoors.

Get to know some of your favorite shelter areas and think about the views at different times of the day. Clear horizons to the east and west are extra nice. At the High View shelter at Twin Creek MetroPark, you can take in a particularly spectacular vista. Remember, full moonrise is in the east, and it sets in the early morning in the west, just like the sun.

Be mindful, raccoons are more active at dusk and will help themselves to your unattended picnic if you present it to them. Food rewards like this are unhealthy for wildlife, so keep your food in containers.


Carrie Scarff

Deputy Director

Bring a Nerf football – one of the easy-to-throw spiral versions so everyone can play, regardless of their skill level.


Bernadette Whitworth

Horticulture and Agriculture Program Manager

Popular park attractions, such as the Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark and the Butterfly House at Cox Arboretum MetroPark, tend to be less crowded on weeknights, making those perfect times for picnics. Combine picnicking with another activity, such as attending a program or renting a bike from RiverScape Rentals. If taking the family to various activities, take a break from your busy day and get a dose of relaxing nature by eating your meal in one of the parks.

Remember some decorations are not friendly to wildlife, which will eat popped balloons and broken streamers. Please leave no trace and properly dispose of even tiny pieces of waste.


Kendra Foote

Business Operations Coordinator

Keep it simple and bring food that doesn’t need a lot of on-site assembly and won’t get gross in the heat, such as pasta salad with chunks of Gouda – lesson learned the hard way. If you’re packing for a small group of people, Mason jars are awesome: perfectly pre-portioned salads and fruit without the need for a plate! Evening picnics are my favorite, but I need to lather on the bug spray, or the mosquitos will picnic on me.


Erik Dahlstrom

Outdoor Recreation Coordinator

My favorite and tastiest picnics have been dug out of a kayak, canoe or backpack during an epic trip. There’s nothing tastier to me than that which was been earned through some sweat equity. Include a picnic as part of an adventure outdoors that helps you work up an appetite.


Betty Hoevel

Education Supervisor, Outdoor Connections

Dress things up with a vintage tablecloth or two, a picnic hamper and lots of pretty, bright-colored napkins. Bring large garbage bags in case the benches are damp from rain or just humidity. Don’t forget music of some sort – whether it be the real thing or tunes from an iPod. Bring a hat and sunscreen, too.


Chris Pion

Park Services Project Manager

Some of the best picnics I’ve had have been very simple. When my sons were younger, we’d often pack a simple lunch and head out on an adventure. We’d stop at any point along the way and have our picnic. Kids love finding the perfect picnic spot.

It also can be great to go big, with coolers of cold drinks, grilled corn on the cob and burgers and dogs. This takes some effort and prep time. Make a list so you don’t forget the items you need to do the job right. It’s hard to cut a watermelon with a plastic knife.


Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at

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