Summer holidays such as July Fourth cry out for a family picnic — but any old weekend will do for an extended family to gather in a Long Island park.
Kevin Omeis of Farmingdale, for instance, requests that his four daughters and their families celebrate every Father’s Day with a picnic at Bethpage State Park. They've been doing it since his married daughters were in high school. “It’s a different scene for the family,” says Omeis, 61, a snack food distributor. “It gets redundant if you keep doing it at this house or that house.”
Here are 10 tips to ensure a successful picnic:
Choose the right park. Valley Stream State Park was the winner for the family of Kenan Akaydin, 33, a New York City Police Department sergeant, to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the graduation of several family members. Location tipped the scales: Valley Stream is central to aunts, uncles and cousins from Brooklyn, New Jersey, Port Jefferson and elsewhere. Others may choose a park based on amenities such as ball fields or lakes.
Check whether permits are required. New York state parks, for instance, require free permits for groups of 50 people or more and $25 permits for groups of any size planning to consume alcohol at their picnic, says George Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks on Long Island. Permits can be obtained at nysparks.com or by calling 631-321-3515.
Delegate. Akaydin’s extended family used a group text to communicate. Aunt Emine Gul, 51, of Brooklyn, took charge of making lists and tracking who would bring what to grill, or side dishes. “One person brought kofte. It’s a Turkish dish of spiced ground beef,” Akaydin says. The family of Roger Siguencia, 49, a Bay Shore contractor, chose a different route for a picnic at Belmont Lake State Park in Babylon: Each adult kicked in $25, and Siguencia and another picnic-goer shopped for all the food and drinks.
Have a Plan B. B for bad weather. “If it’s too hot or too cold, it’s not going to be enjoyable,” says Ayala Kissos of Great Neck, whose family and friends gathered recently at Sands Point Preserve. Not to mention the R word. “Our Plan B was to go to our house,” says Kissos, an investor who describes herself as “ageless.” Other families may have a rain date.
Arrive early. Send one family member to lock in the preferred area. Do you want to be close to the parking lot because you have a lot of items to lug from your car? Do you prefer a spot with an adjacent open space where kids and adults can kick around a ball? Is it important to be near the playground? “I used to get there very early, where I would make eggs on the barbecue,” says Kevin Omeis. Now he arrives about 9:30 a.m. at Bethpage State Park. He cleans the charcoal grill, puts the tablecloths on the tables, even moves some picnic tables into place to accommodate his wife, their four daughters, sons-in-law and seven grandchildren (an eighth is due later this year). Then he relaxes until everyone else arrives around lunchtime. “I put my feet up, have a cigar,” he says. His wife, Debbie, who works in customer service for PSEG, brings the meat when she comes so it’s not in the heat for hours. “I show up later and everything’s done,” she says. Says Kevin: “We have a good system working.”
Consider extra grills and chairs. The Omeis family uses the park’s provided charcoal grill but also brings four or five other small, camping-style grills powered with propane canisters because one grill doesn’t necessarily provide enough room to cook all the meat. Bringing lawn chairs lets people move into the shade or sun as they prefer and not be limited to the hard-to-move picnic tables provided by parks, says Diana Capaccio, 31, a Commack stay-at-home mother and daughter of the Omeises. Toting a blanket to lay on the ground is also a plus, she says.
Bring games to entertain the kids — and the adults. Horseshoes, ring toss, a soccer ball, KanJam. At Siguencia’s picnic, each household wore matching colored shirts and they were team members during relay competitions that involved balloons, eggs and spoons. When Francesca De Sadow, 17, of Great Neck, attended Ayala Kissos’ Sands Point Preserve picnic, the five kids sat on a blanket and played a card game called Pigs. Says De Sadow: “With cards, there are so many games to play.” The adults played competitive Soduku at a picnic table — Anna Gamburd, grandmother of some of the children, photocopied a moderate-level puzzle and the adults raced to see who would finish it first. Include some stationary entertainment to corral the littlest ones, suggests Capaccio, who has two young children, Gianna, 4, and Nico, 3. “I’ll bring some coloring books and crayons if I just want them to stay where they are for the moment,” Capaccio says.
Anticipate snafus. The Akaydin family brought a volleyball but didn’t realize there was no net. Ice for the coolers was something they also almost forgot. “That was a last-minute add,” Akaydin says. For the young kids, pack a change of clothes as well as hand sanitizer and baby wipes, Capaccio says. And don’t neglect suntan lotion and bug spray.
Dessert is key. So says the teenage De Sadow. “I just feel like dessert is a necessity,” she says. “My friend and her family baked oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies.” And somebody brought cannolis, she says. Ice cream trucks visit some parks, so be prepared with some cash if your kids are likely to ask for a cold treat.
Make new friends. At Kenan Akaydin's picnic, guests were so full from the main course that they couldn’t eat the graduation cake. Other picnickers nearby had taken a group photo for them, and so the Akaydins reciprocated by sharing dessert. “We gave them 20 plates of cake for their family,” he says.