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Spring Creek Picnics Brings Pop-Up Picnics To Central Pennsylvania

When you think of the word “picnic,” what comes to mind? Maybe a checkered white and red blanket, a PB&J, and a desperate attempt to keep your food and butt off the ground.

For Renea Nichols, an associate teaching professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, a picnic passion project she developed during the pandemic has turned into an amazing side hustle of creativity.  

Nichols creates “pop-up picnics” inspired by the trend she saw as she stayed near her daughter on the West Coast during the pandemic in 2020. She said she started it as a hobby and in an effort for “something cool to do.”

Nichols came upon a “pop-up picnic” during a time when restaurants weren’t open and dining outside was the only way to socialize. Nichols saw several of these picnics while enjoying some time at the beach.

She kept seeing the same woman, and after several picnic sightings, Nichols eventually approached the woman and learned about the pop-up picnic scene.

“I kept seeing this woman set up these elaborate picnics,” Nichols said. “I knew when I saw her and she told me what she was doing — I knew I wanted to do it when I got back here.”

When she returned home from the West Coast, Nichols started creating these picnics for fun by Spring Creek in Talleyrand Park near her home in Bellefonte.  

Originally these picnics were just for her friends but once she began setting up in the park, people began to notice. In fact, people started asking her how much they cost.

Nichols finally got the push to start her business when one of her setups was shared in a Happy Valley Mom’s Facebook group.

What started as a purely creative outlet quickly became a grant-sponsored small business: Spring Creek Picnics.  

The picnics she creates are based on her client’s requests. She builds them with different themes, which include mixes of rugs, shortened tables, colorful plates, and cups, as well as a large assortment of pillows and other decorative pieces. Clients also get a Bluetooth speaker and games to play.

Oh, and let’s not forget food for the ducks!

All you have to bring is the food. Nichols brings all the picnic materials, sets it up, and cleans up the picnic once you’re done. All the heavy lifting is taken care of for you.

“Like you literally have to do nothing,” said Nichols. “The idea is you’re just there to connect with each other.”

Nichols picnics start at a price of $175, and Penn State students get half off. She uses Spring Creek Picnics to support Talleyrand Park and encourages her clients to order food from local restaurants. For Nichols, it’s always been about giving back to her community, so she offers a $25 discount to those who do.  

“People have been really receptive to the idea that it’s supporting locally owned restaurants,” Nichols said.

Outside of being a professor and a small business owner, Nichols is involved in several nonprofit organizations, including the Bellefonte Art Museum. Additionally, she sits on the board of the Bellefonte Union Cemetery, Children and Youth Service Advisory Board, The Crooked House in Milesburg, and is involved in the Eagle Iron Works and Curtin Village.

Due to her widespread community involvement, Nichols earned the Barash Award for Human Service in April 2022.

A self-proclaimed thrifter, Nichols makes, creates, or finds everything she uses for her picnics herself.  

“You should see the room where I keep all my stuff. That’s a crazy room,” Nichols said.

She has done birthday parties, build-your-own picnics, engagements, and plenty of romantic anniversary dates. Whatever her clients dream up, she can create.

“I just try to make it really special for people,” she said.

Courtesy of Renea Nichols

Nichols makes use of several different locations, such as Curtin village, a bed and breakfast in Bellefonte, and she’ll even bring the picnic to you.

Nichols plans out each picnic in her home and packs it all up at least 3 days before in neat boxes. She also scouts out her spots to make sure the ground is clean and ready for her clients. Then comes set up and clean up. During the warmer months, Nichols can expect two picnics a day, and all of the preparation definitely keeps her busy.

Despite the challenges that come with her picnic business and packed schedule of community involvement, Nichols is devoted to her craft.  

She’s hoping to have several more picnics before the weather turns too chilly. Nichols is also open to setting up picnics indoors or under heated tents to keep her clients warm and happy.

Either way, Nichols and her storage room of picnic planning are waiting for you.

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About the Author

Teagan Staudenmeier

Teagan is a senior majoring in photojournalism and is one of Onward State's photographers. She is from Wilkes-Barre, PA, but is a Canadian at heart. On campus, she is involved in Photo Club and is an Aurora outdoor orientation leader. For more fun content, follow her on Twitter: @Teag_42.

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