Love in the time of coronavirus

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Couples say ‘yes’ to changing plans for weddings

  • Nyssa Moore and Rand Hillyer of Grand Junction planned to have a larger party in Ouray for their wedding, but the couple decided to downsize their celebrations with only their parents present at Crystal Reservoir next month.Above photo courtesyAubreyFletcher/aubreybethphotography.com
    Nyssa Moore and Rand Hillyer of Grand Junction planned to have a larger party in Ouray for their wedding, but the couple decided to downsize their celebrations with only their parents present at Crystal Reservoir next month.Above photo courtesyAubreyFletcher/aubreybethphotography.com
  • Elizabeth Funez and Stephanie Ippolito initially planned a big wedding at Ridgway State Park. But a spike of COVID-ig cases from Arizona, where most of their wedding guests live, led them to postpone their event.
    Elizabeth Funez and Stephanie Ippolito initially planned a big wedding at Ridgway State Park. But a spike of COVID-ig cases from Arizona, where most of their wedding guests live, led them to postpone their event.
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When they envisioned their wedding, Nyssa Moore and Rand Hillyer knew they’d have a big crowd. Both have large families they planned to invite, with at least 50 people at the ceremony and more family and friends joining them afterward at a reception at the Secret Garden in Ouray.

Instead, the Grand Junction couple will tie the knot in August at Crystal Lake with only their parents present after COVID-19 scrambled their plans for celebrating in Ouray.

It’s the mountain setting they hoped for, but without the people they wanted to have by their sides. “Right now, it’s kind of just an elopement,” Moore said. “Now we’re thinking if and when everything opens up again, we’ll have a mock ceremony and reception then.”

Changing restrictions have upended plans for weddings and other gatherings, with some choosing to modify their events, or postpone or cancel them altogether Ouray County, with its scenic mountain vistas and waterfalls, is a popular wedding destination for not only couples in the region, but also from across the country. Some have opted for downsized celebrations under the current pandemic, and others have just decided to wait it out.

Under the state’s current Safer at Home rules, “life-rite ceremonies” events, including weddings, funerals and baptisms, can be held with up to 50 people or at 50% of the space’s capacity, whichever is fewer. Attendees must be able to maintain 6 feet between groups from different households, and outdoor events can have more people as long as the spacing requirements are met. The rules apply only to ceremonies themselves, not to the associated “social receptions or parties.”

Under previous rules, the ceremonies were limited to io people, and under the state’s next phase of reopening, Protect Our Neighbors, the limits will likely be raised again. That has made it gradually easier to hold events, but the ongoing rule changes have made it harder to plan ahead.

In late May, Ridgway State Park sent out letters to anyone with an event booked over the summer, addressing the uncertainty. “It basically said, depending on when your event comes, we have to honor the current state restrictions at that time,” Park Manager Kirstin Copeland said. “When most folks received that letter, they have opted to cancel or postpone.”

The park usually has two or three events scheduled each weekend during the summer, including weddings, family reunions and group picnics at the pavilions or the overlook.

Four or just been moved to the same date next year instead, she said. Oth-ers have asked to modify their events: One couple rented two pavilions for their wedding, and plan to assign io people to each.

Even though the state restrictions are allowing for larger groups, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s own guidelines are more conservative at this time, with a limit of 25 people. Specific permission from the agency was granted for a recent memorial service at the park with 35 people, but any exception requires individual approval.

Similar decisions have been made at other venues: At Top of the Pines, one wedding has been canceled and several others have been postponed until next summer.

The venue is going ahead with weddings with fewer than 50 attendees, and has added extra cleaning protocols, board president Brad Wallis said. “We’re committed to our remaining bookings for the summer,” he said. “There’s probably not a better venue for practicing safe social distancing than an outdoor wedding venue.”

“What’s challenging, I think, for all of us, as recreation sites and site managers, is this weirdness of knowing what’s happening now and not knowing what’s going to happen in a week or further out,” Copeland said.

Until last week, Elizabeth Funez and Stephanie Ippolito thought they could go ahead with their plans for an August wedding at the state park, though they knew it would be smaller than they originally intended.

But a recent spike in COVID cases in Arizona, where they and most of their wedding guests live, forced them to postpone. Even with precautions like masks and distancing, “the idea of putting any of our family, friends, vendors and others in harm’s way from one of us being an unknown asymptomatic carrier just does not sit well with Stephanie or I,” Funez said.

Even before the postponement, some of their guests had declined due to concern about traveling during the pandemic, and their plans for activities in Ridgway and Ouray alongside the wedding had been scaled back. They were wary of rescheduling, because it would mean waiting until next summer to hold a similar, outdoor event at the park, but are now planning to “see how things look like a year from now,” Funez said.

Other couples are choosing the same option because”they’re not sure if regulations are going to be lifted this summer, but, also, they selected a date for a reason,” said Krysta Cossitt, owner of Elevation Weddings and Events. “I’m seeing a lot of couples decide to get married legally and livestream it and then have a party next year.”

For those trying to stick with their original dates, the key is having multiple plans for different scenarios.

For a wedding scheduled for the end of June, Cossitt planned for the current restrictions and if regulations were loosened. Another bride with an August wedding is considering splitting guests into two groups for lunch and dinner receptions to comply with the restrictions, Cossitt said.

Wedding photographer Aubrey Fletcher said many couples with summer events planned have shifted to elopements instead, like Moore and Hillyer.

“Last year, my wedding-to-elopement ratio was about 50%,” she said. “This year, out of the 27 weddings I have, only three of them are actual weddings. Of those three, one of them has postponed to next year, one of them has moved to an elopement, and another is postponing to December.”

“The entire wedding industry right now is struggling,” Cossitt said. She rattled off a list of businesses affected: caterers, hairstylists and makeup artists, bakers, DJs, florists and bands.

“There are so many vendors that play a part in a wedding that are having to postpone their business, and that can be really difficult right now,” she said. We just don’t know when we’ll be able to start having these events and weddings.”

She and others in the wedding industry recently asked the county to submit a variance request to allow larger gathering sizes, but the latest draft rules for the next phase of reopening address many of their concerns, she said. The state’s draft framework would allow “all activities to occur at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity, with at least 6 feet between non-house-hold members and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time,” clearing the way for some events to resume.

Liz Teitz is a journalist with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support her work at the Ouray County Plaindealer by clicking here.