Location, food choice affect wedding budget

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Imagine yourself and your dearly beloved clasping hands and saying your wedding vows next to a babbling brook high in the Colorado Rockies. Now imagine that your own private sylvan retreat cost less than $75 to book, and includes a covered picnic shelter and tables for your guests.

That wedding daydream can come true at the Seedhouse Group Campground in the Hahn's Peak Ranger District of the Routt National Forest. A campground won't be right for all families, but for casual Steamboat weddings, it could be the beginning of a wedding that actually stays within budget.

Ed Patalik, recreation planner for the Ranger District, said the campground was recently upgraded with nicer bathrooms and fireplaces and is underutilized. The Elk River rushes by not 100 feet from the campground.

The upgrades at the campground were undertaken after the Routt Divide Blowdown, which damaged trees in the campground five years ago. The wildfires of 2002 did not affect the campground.

Best of all for wedding parties, it's possible to book exclusive use of the campground for that special day.

That's not the case for some more obvious destinations on the National Forest like Fish Creek Falls.

The waterfall has the obvious advantage of being right outside Steamboat Springs, and its scenic beauty in June is unmatched. But wedding parties must plan on a few uninvited guests.

"We allow wedding ceremonies at Fish Creek Falls, but we don't necessarily recommend them, because we are limited in space and parking," Patalik said. "It is open to the public. Your ushers can't turn people away from the overlook and say 'we've got a wedding going on here.'"

For small wedding parties with a laid back attitude about strangers showing up in the wedding photos, Fish Creek Falls might work out just fine. The fee is the same $3 per car that the public pays.

In addition to places like Fish Creek Falls and Seedhouse Campground, there are even more economical and equally beautiful spots in the National Forest to hold a wedding.

If their plans include a commercial caterer, wedding parties need to apply for an $80 permit, Patalik said. Otherwise, groups larger than 75 people need to apply for a free noncommercial use permit.

"That just gives us some control over the event," Patalik said. "We recommend that wedding parties of any size talk to us about their plans. That way we can inform them of any conflicting uses. There might be a Boy Scout jamboree planned for the same weekend."

If there is one factor that blows the budget for wedding parties, Steve Carlson said, it's a growing guest list. Carlson is the chef at the Hilltop Bar and Grill at Leisure Resorts in Steamboat Springs. Carlson has catered many weddings for a variety of caterers, and consequently, counseled many families. Often, he said, people are nervous when they first come to him.

"In Steamboat, many people are coming from out of town," Carlson said. "They may not feel as comfortable as they would home. I try to put them at ease and let them get to know me."

It is very difficult to plan the food for a reception and stay within the original budget, Carlson said. One big budget breakers is a reception or party that lasts longer than anticipated, leading to increased labor costs.

A second budget buster is the ever-expanding guest list. With every new name, the catering bill ratchets up.

In Steamboat, weddings can be catered for as little as $8 a head, on up to $25 a head and more for complete dinners.

Planning a wedding reception that stays within budget begins even before brides and grooms consider the menu. It starts with booking the hall, Carlson said.

If one discounts the option of a private home, there are not that many places in Steamboat to host a reception, Carlson said. Some wedding halls have adequate kitchens on site -- others do not. That factor will say a great deal about the type of meals that can be served.

The next thing to do is to determine the policy regarding beverages at each wedding location under consideration. The freedom to serve alcoholic beverages or non-alcoholic punch that the wedding families have purchased elsewhere, can represent a significant savings, Carlson said.

Another factor is the distance form Steamboat Springs. That's especially true for church weddings teamed up with a reception outside the city. Some families provide transportation for their guests, and the cost of limo/taxi service tends to go up with each mile outside the city.

Olympian Hall in the Howelsen Hill Lodge is an ideal spot for wedding receptions, Carlson said. It can accommodate 200 people for heavy appetizers, has a kitchen and comes with a supply of tables and chairs.

A check with the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department, which manages the facility, confirmed there was availability for some dates in June and July as of Feb. 10. Wedding parties would do well to plan around the summer softball tournaments that sometimes dominate Howelsen Hill.

Olympian Hall can be rented for $40 an hour for private functions. The flat fee for eight hours and beyond is $325.

Most families planning a formal reception seek bids from several caterers, Carlson said, and he has seen proposals accepted and rejected on a difference of $1 per head.

Families can save considerable money at some wedding locations by supplying table linens, centerpieces, candles and candleholders, and decorations themselves. Recruiting friends and relatives to help with the set-up, decoration and take-down, can also save significant money.

Caterers need varying numbers of employees to host a meal -- probably two chefs, at least one bartender and several food servers. It's typical to charge $15 per hour for labor with a minimum of four hours for each person. Caterers who will allow wedding families to work with them on set-up will help them stay within their budgets Carlson said.

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