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Planning an Outdoor Wedding

by Carol Reed-Jones

An outdoor wedding is a wonderful way to bring nature into your celebration, and a good way to save on flowers and other decorations, too. A beautiful outdoor location is scenic enough to stand on its own.

Warn your guests that the wedding will be outdoors, so that women will wear flat shoes or at least avoid spike heels, and everyone will have extra clothes for chilly, overcast weather, or raincoats in case of rain (yes, it rains in August in the Pacific Northwest). If you're having an evening reception outside, and insects are a problem, consider repelling them (the insects, not your guests) with citronella candles in votive-style holders.

One couple had a potluck buffet for their outdoor wedding. Since the cake was going to be served much later, they put it inside a colorful picnic canopy with mosquito netting panels so that it could still be seen, but bugs wouldn't fly into the frosting and stick. This was also a good idea, because the cake was set up under the trees, where birds were roosting... The tent canopy idea could also work well for other food, where you're serving a home-catered buffet of mostly room-temperature foods.

To have a wedding to remember positively, the two most important things to consider are location and weather. Of these two, weather used to be the one thing you couldn't determine ahead of time. Now there's a free service on the internet called Weatherplanner.com. They have apparently been used by the U.S. government and businesses for over 60 years. I used their services to plan a recent business trip to Washington DC and Cleveland, both light years away from West Coast weather. Because of the accuracy of their predictions, I was able to pack appropriately so that
I didn't roast in the 70+ April weather in DC, or freeze when it snowed
the next day (although thunderstorms were predicted, not snow). Is there a particular time of year known for its regional weather hazards - tornadoes, hurricanes? Pick another time of year for your wedding. The folks at Weatherplanner.com suggest you check the weather before you set your wedding date. They are at http://www.weatherplanner.com

The Location
To find great outdoor wedding venues, ask friends. Look at wedding announcements in the local paper for ideas. Read local tourism guides
and get a list of city, county, state and national parks in the area, and their amenities. Local hiking and walking guidebooks sometimes incidentally mention wedding venues in parks and other places. Phrases such as "you may find yourself dodging wedding parties on the woodland walkways" are a good clue. Always have an indoor refuge or shelter of last resort. Does the venue
have a house or structure you can rent along with the outdoor space in case of rain? Will they allow you to set up a rented party tent or canopy? If nothing else, is there some weather protection you can set up for musicians and their instruments? Often a mid-sized to large private home with a garden or wooded setting is a good option, because the wedding can be held indoors if necessary. 
A note on state parks as wedding venues. They are lovely places to hold
weddings.  However, state parks are not in the wedding business, they are in the recreation business. So their method of doing things may be quite different from a place that regularly holds weddings on the premises. One couple I know inquired about having their wedding ceremony at a scenic waterfront park. No problem, they were told. You'll have 50 guests maximum, so just apply for a permit for that date and location. They did, and everyone arrived at the location. A harp was carried out to a wooded point of land overlooking the water, and guests began to assemble. Surprise! Another couple had planned their very intimate
wedding of under 20 guests, and had been told by the same park service
that gatherings of under 20 people did not require a permit. They showed
up shortly after the first couple had begun to set up, and graciously
allowed the larger group to go first. That particular park service does
not check to see if things like that will conflict--it's not their job. 

Another couple booked a picnic area for their reception at a state park (different park, different state). The site was free, and in their inexperience, they didn't think to ask if guests entering the park had
to pay admission. So guests who were unprepared to pay (thank goodness
everyone had the admission price with them!) kept driving up to the
entrance booth, showing wedding invitations, and were told repeatedly by park employees, "We don't know anything about a wedding here." This was exacerbated by the late arrival of the bride and groom. If the bride and
groom had thought about it beforehand (I can afford to be critical here, this was my first wedding), they could have made some sort of payment arrangement before or after the wedding. And that cozy little ocean
cliff viewpoint where they chose to be married? Park visitors, who just
happened to be strolling by, sat on the split rail fence and gawked at
the proceedings. So, if you book a location in a state park for your wedding, think ahead about contingencies, plan for them, and be prepared to go with the flow.

Carol Reed-Jones is the author of Green Weddings That Don't Cost the Earth, by Carol Reed-Jones. (Paper Crane Press, 1996)

Copyright 1999-2000 Carol Reed-Jones

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