Big, fat water droplets soaked Bethany McFarland and Mykal Leslie from head-to-toe as they hiked to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It was hardly fun to make the six-and-a-half mile-long trek in the middle of a storm, but with an engagement ring in his pocket and a plan to propose at the top, Mykal knew there was no turning back — even when two good samaritans offered to give the couple a lift in their car. Just as the couple reached the very top, the black clouds parted and sun shone through, so Mykal saw his chance and asked Bethany to marry him. After a resounding "Yes!" and a quick selfie, the couple headed back down the mountain soaked and sore — but filled with joy and ready to plan their big day.
For their October 3, 2015, wedding in Peninsula, Ohio, the couple envisioned a naturally rustic fete with a touch of woodland-inspiration. "We wanted an ethereal atmosphere complete with dreamy, twinkling candles," the bride says. With yards of fresh floral garlands and hues that played up the natural aesthetic the couple was dreaming of — think: ivory, hints of blush, and plenty of forest green — Bethany and Mykal created the party of their dreams. And luckily for us, Studio Elle Photography was there to capture it all.
Given their engagement story, it's no surprise this nature-loving duo would choose a national park for their big day celebration. Hines Hills Campus, inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, had the whimsical look the couple yearned for with the added benefit of an indoor facility to protect them and their 80 guests from any inclement weather.
"We knew we wanted to keep our invite list fairly small," the bride says. "We wanted people to be comfortable, to have fun, and to enjoy every moment of our special day."
This bride went into wedding dress shopping knowing exactly what she was looking for: Something soft and flowing, and in a must-have shade of blush. The winner? This Stella York gown, complete with delicate lace details and a flattering sweetheart neckline. "As soon as I found the dress and put it on, I knew it was the one," Bethany says.
She finished her look with a handmade lace mantilla-style veil, a sparkling beaded belt, and a delicate pearl necklace — Mykal's wedding day gift to his bide. "I also wore a black onyx ring, which was my great-grandmother's, as my something old," she says.
To contrast their wedding's overall neutral palette, Bethany and Mykal decided that the groom and his groomsmen should dress in navy. "We liked that it's a deeper, more masculine hue," Bethany says. They added boutonnieres made from blush and ivory colored flowers and greens to tie back into the day's natural vibe.
Bethany asked her maid and matron of honor to wear knee-length lace dresses with quarter-length sleeves in shades of ivory. "I wanted a soft, feminine look for the girls," she says. And because the bride wore blush herself, she loved the idea of reversing tradition and asking her 'maids to wear the classic bridal hue.
The bride's bouquet contained tons of green foliage, with pops of color courtesy of eucalyptus seeds and blush café au lait dahlias. Her maid and matron of honor carried bouquets brimming with greens with ivory garden roses.
Bethany and Mykal took on a DIY project — or 10! — including crafting all of their wedding signs. For their ceremony welcome sign, the couple stained a piece of wood, then hand-painted the wedding day schedule in white lettering.
Because they choose Hines Hill Campus for its natural beauty, Bethany and Mykal hoped to host an outdoor ceremony and reception. But Mother Nature had other ideas and delivered rain on their wedding day. "While we weren't thrilled to turn to our backup plan at first," Bethany admits. "But it seems our Plan B was the real plan all along. The indoor settings made for the cozy, intimate, and perfectly romantic day we imagined."
The bride and groom exchanged vows in front of a roaring fire and beneath a chuppah made from tree limbs and an asymmetrical garland of eucalyptus and other greens. And while the couple didn't write their ceremony vows, they did choose ones that most represented their relationship to be printed on their Ketubah.
Guests found their seats on an unique seating chart display: A vintage window pane the couple hand-painted with their names and table numbers.
Inside the Hines Hill Campus, long banquet tables were topped with ivory linens and tan napkins. In addition to long, green garlands, place cards served as added décor. The couple's florist tied a sprig of eucalyptus to each handmade Kraft paper name tag.
The bride and groom's seat signs were also a DIY project that Bethany and Mykal tackled together before the big day.
Candles held in mercury and clear glass votives were mixed in with the table-length garlands. Bethany and Mykal also made the table numbers using white oval frames with a vintage-inspired floral patterns. "It was so much fun to be able to pour so much thought and effort into making every little detail just perfect," the bride says.
A friend made the couple's one-tier cake iced in ivory frosting and decorated with café au lait dahlias. "We also had a dessert table with a large assortment of cookies and sweets," Bethany says.
Bethany and Mykal shared their first dance as husband and wife to Alicia Keys' "Not Even the King." But the party was just getting started. "At the very end of the reception, as the final song of the evening played, our guests spontaneously formed a circle around us as we danced," Bethany remembers. "Mykal swooped me up in his arms and spun me around and around. It was by far the most memorable, special moment of the entire day."
The couple enjoyed a mini-moon on Lake Erie, then took a weeklong honeymoon in St. Lucia.
Venue: Hines Hill Campus || Bride's Wedding Dress: Stella York, purchased at Leonardo's Bridal Boutique || Veil: Alex Bridal || Shoes: Badgley Mischka || Hair & Makeup: Sam Wanna Salon and Day Spa || Bridesmaids Dresses: Bloomingdale's || Groom's & Groomsmen's Attire: American Commodore Tuxedo || Wedding Bands: Braidy Jewelers || Florist: Fair Rarity Flowers || Invitations: Minted || Music: DJ David Ramey || Catering: Old Carolina Barbeque || Rentals: Miller's Party Rental Center || Favors: Fall for Design || Photographer: Studio Elle Photography
Do you and your groom love the outdoors just as much as this couple? Then check out another beautiful open-air bash in the video below, sure to inspire ideas for your own big day.