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  • Bohemian Adventure: Kristen & Mark

    Kristen and Mark’s relationship was full of outdoor adventure from the beginning. They first met in the summer of 2009 while working as raft guides in the two mile-long town of Idaho Springs, Colorado. With more raft instructors than residents in the city and both employed by the same raft company, crossing paths was inevitable and their relationship soon took off.

    Mark proposed five years later during a hike up Sam Knob in Asheville with Kristen and their 2-year-old chocolate lab Rupert.

    “When we got to the top I turned around and Rupert had a note on his collar. The note read: ‘Mommy, I’m almost three and no longer a puppy, so can we take the last name of daddy and become one big happy family?’” Kristen says. “I looked up and saw Mark on one knee, and it was the most perfect proposal ever.”


    As they started planning their May 2015 wedding at Summerfield Farms the couple knew they wanted to keep it simple, relaxed and fun – a reflection of who they were. Kristen credits their wedding planner Melissa Lewkowicz for helping their shared vision come to life: “She was so laid-back and fun, but also on-point and detailed. I knew I could plan the little things but on the wedding day would really need her to take over.”

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    Mark and Kristen incorporated their love of nature and being outdoors by saying their vows under the sprawling branches of a giant old oak tree. Kristen embodied a romantic, bohemian style in her airy Sarah Seven gown, which she paired with a wildflower crown and bare feet. Her bridesmaids also kept with the simplistic theme in neutral, mismatched dresses.

    Rupert was a special addition to the wedding party, serving as an honorary groomsman and standing by his parents in a pale blue bowtie as they became one family.

    “We got him four years ago in Colorado at only 6-weeks-old,” Kristen explains. “He has changed our lives from that day forward and made our little family complete.”

    The reception took place in the nearby barn, where the couple continued their simplistic style with white linens, rustic centerpieces, vintage fabric garlands, and pops of pink and mint color. About 130 friends and family sat down to enjoy a Southern dinner of barbeque, macaroni and cheese, salad and vegetables.

    “[It was a] perfect menu for our wedding; nothing fancy. People were telling us the next day how amazing the food was!”

    In place of a traditional wedding cake, a dessert wagon offered a spread of cupcakes in a variety of flavors, including vanilla, red velvet, key lime pie and banana. Also on display were fun, personalized favors for guests to take home: matches stamped with “Kristen and Mark, a perfect match”; koozies with “eat, drink, be merry” on one side and a silhouette of a lab on the other; and Mason jars with an N.C. chalkboard outline.

    The majority of the evening was spent on the dance floor, as family and friends celebrated the newly married couple under beautiful wood ceiling beams illuminated by bright string lights. Mark and Kristen added one last quirky touch to their day by making their exit under the cover of thousands of translucent bubbles.

    When asked to pick a favorite memory, the couple simply said: “Just seeing all our family and friends come together and enjoy that day as much as we were … it was just a big party for everyone!”

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  • Riverfront park provides a scenic setting for weddings

    On Aug. 16, 2014, Becky Leland and Joe Puchtel tied the knot at River’s Edge Commons Park in downtown Elk River, with the Mississippi River as their scenic backdrop.

    “I loved it. I would choose it again in a heartbeat,” Becky said.

    Becky Leland and Joe Puchtel were married on Aug. 16, 2014, at River’s Edge Commons Park. The park overlooks the Mississippi River in downtown Elk River and has become a popular wedding venue.

    Becky Leland and Joe Puchtel were married on Aug. 16, 2014, at River’s Edge Commons Park. The park overlooks the Mississippi River in downtown Elk River and has become a popular wedding venue. Photo by Katie Shatusky, KTBUG Photo & Design

    River’s Edge Commons, a city park located at Main and Jackson, has become a popular local wedding venue since it opened in 2007.

    Becky said it was a laid-back, intimate and beautiful setting for their wedding.

    A 1999 graduate of Elk River High School, Becky said they considered having their wedding at her parents’ home along the Mississippi River in Big Lake Township, but parking would have been an issue.

    When a friend recommended River’s Edge Commons, it turned out to be the right venue for them.

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    Officiating at the Leland-Puchtel wedding ceremony was a longtime friend and pastor, Dan Bergstrom. Photo by Katie Shatusky, KTBUG Photo & Design.

    Officiating at the Leland-Puchtel wedding ceremony was a longtime friend and pastor, Dan Bergstrom. Photo by Katie Shatusky, KTBUG Photo & Design.

    Becky said her husband is an outdoorsman and she wanted an outdoor wedding by the river.

    “When this came up, it was perfect,” she said.

    They were married by a longtime friend and pastor, Dan Bergstrom. About 100 guests attended the ceremony.

    Today they make their home along the Mississippi River in Elk River. Becky teaches special education at Rogers High School and Joe, an Osseo native, is a Plunkett’s Pest Control supervisor.

    A sign leading to the lower level of River’s Edge Commons Park listed details about the ceremony. Photo by Katie Shatusky, KTBUG Photo & Design

    A sign leading to the lower level of River’s Edge Commons Park listed details about the ceremony. Photo by Katie Shatusky, KTBUG Photo & Design

    The Puchtels are one of several dozen couples married at River’s Edge Commons in recent years.

    Steve Benoit, the city of Elk River’s recreation manager, said there were 10 couples married there in 2013, 20 in 2014 and 11 in 2015. He said they would have had more weddings there in 2015, but they limited reservations at one point when it appeared a park expansion project would get underway. That project didn’t happen in 2015, but it may be approved for construction in either the spring or fall of 2016, depending on how the bids come in. The project would include closing the lower part of the alley, expanding the park’s seating and addressing some erosion and landscaping issues, Benoit said.

    Meanwhile, more couples are planning weddings at the park in 2016, including Bri Portner and Nick Runge. They will be married there on July 16.

    Bri Portner and Nick Runge will be married this July at River's Edge Commons.

    Bri Portner and Nick Runge will be married this July at River’s Edge Commons.

    Bri said her dad, Cal, brought up River’s Edge as an option for the wedding site. He knows it well, as his job is the city administrator of Elk River.

    “We went and looked at it, and we really liked it,” she said.

    Bri, who works as a surgical technologist, and Nick, a client services manager, had researched several outdoor venues and visited one other one before choosing River’s Edge Commons. Bri said she likes the park’s natural setting that won’t require a lot of decorating to be ready for their wedding.

    “I liked that it was simple yet really decorative in its own way, naturally, so we don’t have to do a lot to it,” she said.

    She also likes that the park has stadium seating so everyone will have a clear view of the ceremony, which will be conducted in the stage area where they plan to set up an altar.

    In addition to weddings, Benoit said the park is also a popular place for graduating seniors and family photo shoots. People are welcome to use it for that without making a reservation, he said. But if they want exclusive use, they would need to make a reservation.

    Katie Shatusky of KTBUG Photo & Design, who photographed the Leland-Puchtel wedding, loved photographing a wedding in the park.

    “The greatest thing about this park is that there are elevation changes, so you can capture some amazing shots from above and then from below, by the river, looking up into the crowd,” Shatusky said.

    The Leland-Puchtel wedding had the added bonus of being on an evening with an amazing sunset, she said.

    About River’s Edge Commons Park

    •Wedding rental is $150 for a two-hour minimum. There is a six-hour maximum with a cost of $50 per additional hour. A refundable damage and cleaning deposit is $250.

    •The wedding rental fee gives the wedding party exclusive use of the lower level of the park, which seats about 200 people.

    •The upper plaza of the park by the fountain remains open to the public during wedding rentals.

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  • Wedding venue closure leaves brides high and dry

    Your wedding day is supposed to be sacred, but several dreams have been ruined after a Houston venue suddenly closed down, leaving couples out thousands of dollars.

    It's a seemingly attractive venue where Karina Villanueva had planned to exchange vows in October.

    "It's terrible I just don't wish this on anybody," Villanueva said.

    This bride-to-be says what's terrible is how much money she's out -- more than $9,500. She showed KHOU those figures Wednesday in receipts.Her contract with the venue shows she was due to pay this place even more. It's a place that's now refusing to give her anything back.


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    "It's been horrible," Villanueva said. "Just trying to get my money back and trying to find a new venue that actually has my date available. It's been stressful."

    Records show the place is run by Houston Events Center. KHOU tried the venue on Tuesday, but a security guard told us he worked for the bank and couldn't help us.

    We also tried a location off Almeda-Genoa, but no one was in the management office

    We also tried several times on the phone. The first time, someone told us we had the wrong number. Then seconds later, someone called back identifying himself as Tommy Torres, and he told us the business shut down in December.

    Torres added that it wasn't his branch of the business, and he couldn't do anything further. He directed our questions to a lawyer, but he never followed up. We again tried on Wednesday to follow up over the phone, but no one responded.

    Another woman who used to work for the Gran Palacio says several brides lost money and knew many of them wanted refunds. That woman says she quit because she didn't want to be involved with a business that would treat customers this way.

    "Right now, that's our honeymoon, that's our wedding bands, that's stuff we need," said Veronica Villarreal, who's another of those brides.

    She and her husband are out about $2,600, but it's still money she needs.

    She works full time and goes to night classes at University of Houston-Clear Lake.

    "We're working our butts off so we can have this big lavish wedding with our family and friends," Villarreal said.

    They are sacred days now put on hold as these women fight to get their money back. Right now, it's unclear when or if these couples will get their money back. Both tell KHOU they're hiring lawyers and it's likely their cases will be decided in bankruptcy court.

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