That is the question. Do we or don’t we … risk having an outdoor wedding? Pictures of couples exchanging vows overlooking a valley or waterfall are breathtaking, but what isn’t in the picture?
Saying “I Do” To an Outdoor Wedding
Say “I do” to beautiful scenery. The New River Valley has mountains, valleys, rivers, fields and streams. Finding the perfect location to say “I do” is easy. Outside venues make it simple to accommodate a large number of people. All you need are more folding chairs. Parking is often readily available, or not.
The right location can also mean less decorating. Think of nature, lots of greenery, and abundant sky, ideally blue. With a breathtaking backdrop, guests will never notice the lack of floral displays. A field of wildflowers could mean no florist bill.
A forest setting provides natural shade and excellent lighting because natural lighting creates stunning photographs. A high sun casts harsh shadows. Aim for late afternoon, especially in the golden glow of sunset. Tent rentals come in many sizes and offer fairly comfortable protection from light rain and hot sun. Very small weddings might entail a little hike to a creek, a large boulder or open hillside.
In the “I don’t” column, you must put bugs, especially mosquitoes, at the top. For many people, mosquitoes await their arrival at the county line. Guests will appreciate a basket with unscented bug-repellant sprays or wipes and fold out or battery-operated fans.
Then, of course, solidly in the “I don’t” column, there’s Mother Nature. The bride and groom’s vision for their wedding day probably includes a bright blue sky with perfect, cotton-candy clouds. Regarding the weather, you must make two plans, just in case.
Shoes belong in this column. Heels may not be a good choice, especially on rainy days. One clever bride’s dad made round wooden stepping-stone-like stands for all the girls, saving their heels from sinking into soft ground or sticky Virginia clay. If you get married on soft grass, go barefoot.
Even if the wedding day dawns clear and bright, if it’s been raining significantly, the footing (and parking) may be exceptionally soggy and tricky to keep folding chair legs and heels above ground. Adding chains to pull out cars mired in mud may not enhance the wedding festivities.
One other factor is knowing your own personality type. If you are easily rattled, you spent a small fortune on a wedding gown and want [need!] everything to go exactly as planned, well, then “you don’t” do an outdoor wedding. At least not without a solid back-up plan say 12 feet away.
Not Everyone is Going To the Chapel — Say “I Do” to an At-Home Wedding
Many ceremonies are held outside on private property of the bride, groom or family. The average wedding and reception cost more than $30,000. However, many say $5,000 can cover the price of a dress, invitations, floral arrangements, photographer and reception for the DIYers at home. While the venue can eat up half a couple’s budget, most of the set-up, tear-down and cart-away work is done by its staff. Additionally, renting everything for your own backyard ceremony can add up mightily once you factor in chairs, tent, tables, dishes, extension cords and add power, lighting, a temporary arbor or gazebo. Even with free labor from relatives and friends, it’s a big undertaking.
State and National Parks Are Public, Right?
Well, yes, but public isn’t synonymous with free. The New River Valley is blessed with beautiful Claytor Lake State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Both accommodate weddings, for a fee, with minimal staff or services.
Claytor Lake rents a gazebo on the lake, an inside reception area (ready to double as a rainy-day wedding venue), a deck and a kitchen. The $740 fee includes setting up chairs, tables and serving stations. All you need is the caterer, food and drink. Historic Howe House is available for the wedding party to change clothes and prepare for the event, but it is still a public restroom.
The stunning Blue Ridge Parkway is technically a national parkway, not a national park, though it is operated by the National Park Service. Weddings are allowed with the proper park permit. Areas aren’t closed off, so hikers may wander through or stop and join the festivities. Some sites, like Mabry’s Mill, are excluded. Nonrefundable application ($60) and administrative ($40) fees are due when the permit is issued.
The permit authorizes two hours for the ceremony. No reception activity is allowed, so you must move along after sealing those vows with a kiss. Nothing is included but the natural scenery.
Love – Come Rain or Come Shine
Legend holds that your marriage will last if it rains on your wedding day. What a fortunate start to a new life together. This may be because it is nearly impossible to untie a wet knot. So, if you “tie the knot” in the rain, your marriage will be equally hard to undo. That won’t make you wish for rain, but it’s nice to know.
Outdoor Weddings Considerations
• Rent the tent—a clear one (think of those photos)
• Buy umbrellas—clear for the bridal party, and clear or white for all the guests (leave the tags on and
keep the receipts for returns after a sunny day).
Again, think of the photos and keep Aunt Madge’s
Picasso and Uncle Frank’s gigantic Hokie golfbrella
out of the shot.
• Clear or colorful ponchos
• Help-yourself baskets of bug spray, plastic
sunglasses, visors, fans, water bottles
• Musician power, temperature control, footing
• Dance “floor”
• First aid kit
• Guest book location
• Throws and light blankets
• Portable restrooms
• Wedding cake location
• Flashlights for walking if after dark
Text by Jo Clark
Writer Jo Clark has held lots of outdoor birthday celebrations, none of which were rained out. She stays on the go on Instagram @JoGoesEverywhere. www.HaveGlassWillTravel.com.