12/28/2017 3:11:44 PM
He proposed, and she accepted. Now comes the stress of planning the wedding. And one of the most pressing questions: Where do we host the big (or not so big) event?
Finding the right venue is the most significant task in planning a wedding, and usually the first. And for those planning a summer wedding, now is the time to make a reservation.
Many couples are choosing Mississippi State Parks, whether the drive from home is short or considerably longer. Reasons vary, but a few themes are apparent: breathtaking backdrops, one-stop convenience, flexibility and budget-friendly pricing.
John Kyle was the perfect setting for the marriage of Cody and Abby Cobb in June 2017.
“Our oldest daughter had a church wedding with a reception at an old home. Our son had a country club wedding and reception,” said Lisa Martin of Oxford, mother of the bride. “Abby wanted something more laid back and outside in nature.”
Abby comes by it naturally.
“We’re country people; we enjoy the woods and nature trails,” Martin said. “We have a farm near Water Valley. We have been coming to John W. Kyle State Park for about 15 years.”
The weekend started Friday evening with the wedding rehearsal. “It had rained all day, so we rehearsed both inside and outside just in case,” Martin said. Afterward, the groom’s family hosted the rehearsal dinner at the marina on Sardis Lake.
The wedding began at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in front of a wooden “teepee” structure the family had specially built. Because natural surroundings were part of the backdrop, few decorations were added. “There is a large grassy area that ends at the bluff overlooking the lake,” Martin said. “It could not have been prettier.”
The reception was held inside the park’s lodge, which features rustic wooden beams and a massive stone fireplace.
Another perk of having their event at the park was onsite lodging.
“We had people from all over staying in 10 or 12 cabins at the park,” Martin said. “After the reception, we gathered outside with tiki torches and stayed there until midnight. Then everyone walked to their cabins. It worked out fine.”
Davis and Kelsey Shaw Clayton were married at her church in Holly Springs in May 2017. “When I was looking for a place to have the rehearsal dinner, someone suggested Wall Doxey State Park,” said Davis’ mother, Lisa Clayton of Okolona. “We’re sort of outdoorsy people. My husband and I drove up to look at the park and decided it would be great. It’s really down to earth and comfortable.”
The site was also sentimental for Kelsey, whose parents had held their rehearsal dinner and reception at Wall Doxey 25 years earlier in April 1992.
After Friday night’s rehearsal, the park was a short seven-mile drive away. The Claytons hosted a catered dinner in the park’s lodge for around 120 guests, including the wedding party and out-of-town guests. “It’s just a large open room with a big picture window overlooking the lake,” Clayton said. “The scenery was more than perfect for what we had in mind.”
The Claytons and some friends stayed the weekend in their RVs at the state park, while other guests rented a cottage there. “We also had the groomsmen’s lunch there on Saturday,” she said. “The nice thing is that the rental fee covered the day before, the day of and the day after, which was great for setting up and cleaning up. Also, the staff was super nice to work with.”
When Katelynn Davis Englert of Memphis and Caleb Englert of Houston were engaged, they wanted a mutually convenient wedding venue for family and friends. “My parents have a place at Waterloo, Alabama, so I grew up going to J.P. Coleman State Park,” she said.
The two were married there on the evening of May 16, 2015, on a bluff that overlooks Pickwick Lake.
“One of our friends made an arbor, and it was definitely a centerpiece of the wedding,” Englert said. “The sun was setting, and there were dark clouds because a thunderstorm was brewing. The sky is really cool-looking in our wedding photos.”
After the ceremony, guests walked steps away to the lodge for the reception. The lodge has two glass walls facing the lake, so nature dominated the rustic décor. They hung panels of navy fabric and decorated sparsely with barrels, wooden Coca-Cola boxes, greenery and sweet potatoes -- a nod to Caleb, who is a sweet potato farmer.
“We had a band and a dance floor inside,” she said, “and outside we set up cornhole boards and other activities.”
But the Englerts' wedding and reception were just the culmination of a weeklong celebration with family and friends.
“Most all of the wedding party arrived on Wednesday. We rented the whole hotel, and some family members stayed in their RVs on the campground,” she said. “The bridesmaids stayed in one townhouse, and the groomsmen stayed next door in another. We grilled and cooked breakfast and enjoyed hanging out together.”
That Friday, the girls traveled by boat to a waterfront restaurant for the bridesmaids' luncheon. The rehearsal dinner was held that evening at another local restaurant.
Festivities ended Saturday night, but the wedding party lingered.
“Caleb and I stayed in a cabin on our wedding night,” Englert said. “Everyone helped us clean up on Sunday. Caleb and I stayed an extra night in the cabin before leaving for Florida the next day.”
Percy Quin State Park Manager Will Busby says his park hosts around 100 weddings each year. The Busbys have helped contribute to that number over the years: Both sons were married at the park, and Will and his wife, Donna, celebrated their 25th anniversary there with a vow renewal ceremony.
Many couples marry at the park’s convention center, which seats up to 200 guests. Others go the more rustic route, like the youngest Busby son, and hold their wedding at the lodge. “They hung lace panels throughout the lodge,” Donna Busby said. “It was beautiful with all the old wood. Everyone walked to the convention center for the reception.”
For those wanting an outdoor ceremony, like the elder Busby son, a nearby pavilion offers the perfect site for up to 100 guests. “The park is a beautiful setting,” Donna adds. “It makes for beautiful pictures.”
Another favorite wedding spot is the quaint Wayside Chapel, where nondenominational worship services are held every Sunday. In 2007 when the Busbys renewed their vows, they had the ceremony in Wayside Chapel and the reception in the lodge.
Percy Quin State Park even offers onsite catering and lodging options.
“Many will rent cabins or rent out the whole hotel, which is right next door to the convention center. Some guests stay at the campground,” Will Busby said. “It’s very convenient because the entire wedding party can be within a few minutes’ walk or drive of the venue.”
When Jana Johnson married Justin Hewitt on July 26, 2014, she did not have to look far for the perfect reception site. The Johnson family lives only about three miles from Roosevelt State Park in Morton.
“We live in a small town — we just got our second traffic light,” explains Sonda Johnson, mother of the bride. “But we have a wonderful state park.
“My daughter got engaged on a Saturday in October. When I called the following Monday to book a date for July, the 26th was the only date the lodge was available,” Johnson said. “That availability determined their wedding date.”
Johnson, who has attended several events at the park, wasn’t surprised to find the facility booked so far in advance. Conveniently located between Meridian and Jackson, Roosevelt State Park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of Bienville National Forest. “The lake is gorgeous, and there are pretty wooden benches scattered around,” she said. “I once attended a wedding right outside the lodge facing the lake when the sun was setting behind the couple. It was just beautiful.”
Following the Johnson-Hewitt wedding at Morton’s First Baptist Church, guests made the short drive to the park. “When you arrive at the lodge, you go down these beautiful stairs to the entrance,” Johnson said. “The lodge is rustic with tall ceilings and windows that look over the lake,” she said. “The reception photos are beautiful with the lake, the arch, and all the stone walls.”
The reception was catered for around 350 guests. “The park staff was very helpful and accommodating to our caterer and to us,” Johnson said, noting that the lodge’s rental fee was quite reasonable. “They already have tables and chairs, so we didn’t have to rent those. Parking was easy, and the lodge was very clean. We didn’t have to use a lot of decorations because the view is so beautiful.”
When the Johnsons’ other daughter, Kara Beth, became engaged to Brady Power in April 2017, they knew exactly where they wanted their reception. They booked the lodge right away for July 21, 2018, and looked forward to another storybook event.
Deborah Roberts is a freelance writer for Mississippi Outdoors