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Picnic Day: Student planners target family fun

And they're off! Dachshunds leave the starting gate for one of the Picnic Day races in 2012, with varying degrees of commitment to the race. This year's Doxie Derby races begin at 1 p.m. in The Pavilion; doors open at noon. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

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From page A1 | April 16, 2013 | Leave Comment

There will still be cow milking and a parade, but the UC Davis students behind the 99th Picnic Day have added a high-tech wrinkle most of their forerunners surely never imagined.

They call it the “Snapshot” challenge, so named for the theme they’ve chosen for Saturday’s campus open house. Here’s how it works:

Visit the Picnic Day website, http://picnicday.ucdavis.edu. Sign up. Then, wielding a smartphone, hustle around the sprawling campus. At 30 places or events, scan the posted QR codes. All that, for a chance to win a prize.

Get out your comfortable shoes and sunscreen. That makes one more fun option added to the more than 200 planned events and exhibits.

“It’s just kind of our way to promote all the events that are at Picnic Day. At the same time, we hope that by having something like this and having people go check out these events, it’ll divert the attention away from all the kinds of substance abuse we’ve had in the past,” said chair Jonathan Wu.

The 16 student directors are hoping they’ll hear good reviews and see them pop up on Facebook and Twitter — along with a second straight year of diminishing numbers on the arrest log.

“We want everyone to have fun and celebrate, but safety should definitely be top priority for everyone,” said Wu, who, when not heading up the planning of the largest student-run event in the country, is a fourth-year neurobiology major from Shanghai.

“My first time at Picnic Day gave me my first feeling of Aggie pride,” he said. “It was really great just to see all these students out, in force, celebrating what Davis is all about and enjoying themselves. For international students, or people who are away from home, it’s a day when they can really feel at home here.”

Picnic Day brings together the campus community, alumni and Davis residents “in a way other towns can’t, because they don’t have an all-encompassing event,” said Vice Chair Kevin Hadidjaja, a senior exercise biology major from Los Angeles.

Attendance numbers like 80,000, 90,000, 100,000 or more, maybe lots more, get bandied about afterward during an annual game of shrugs and ballpark guesses.

Back again for another day will come the racing dachshunds of the Doxie Derby, the chemistry and physics magic shows and the Battle of the Bands, along with newer favorites like sledding on trucked-in snow and navigating the laser maze.

There will be educational and informational exhibits and booths and lectures, sports, performances and all manner of food, from pancakes for alumni to Korean barbecue to, ah yes, liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Last year, Wu and Hadidjaja were both busy helping run Picnic Day, in different roles, but as Picnic Day-goers they were both fans of the many animal events.

“When I went my sophomore year, the dog Frisbee show — that was absolutely amazing, absolutely incredible,” Wu said. “One of my personal favorites, even though people kinda cringe at it, is the cockroach races. And the Doxie Derby is always a must-see.

“People have a hard time coming out in the morning — they usually make it in the afternoon — but if you come out in the morning, the parade is really kind of the epitome of Picnic Day. This year, we have 68 entries.”

Hadidjaja said the directors are aiming for “a feeling of family fun.”

“I always loved festivals and carnivals and fairs when I was growing up,” he said. “I want people to feel that, too, with Picnic Day, but with a sort of Aggie flair, because we’re known for our animals, our big science programs. I want them to get that festival feeling but with some educational aspects mixed in, as well.”

Among Picnic Day’s board of directors, 14 receive $600 each for a year’s work. As chair, Wu receives a $2,500 stipend; Hadidjaja will receive $1,300. Each director has a handful of volunteer assistants. They’ll spend a budget of about $60,000 to $70,000, including their salaries, equipment, like grandstand rentals and communications, cleanup, T-shirts for volunteers and other costs.

Picnic Day surely remains a bargain, then — especially when compared to the bill an event-planning firm likely would hand the campus, without approaching the homespun feel that has existed on at least one day, almost every spring, since 1909, when neighbors were invited to see the University Farm’s new barn and to pack a lunch.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Paul Cody, the board’s staff adviser, “just as it has been 98 other times.”

Online: http://picnicday.ucdavis.edu

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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