Summit County welcomes the newest wave of destination weddings
On a crisp, clear, sun-drenched Valentine’s Day, Celynn McManus of Erie met one of the most important people in her wedding for the very first time.
Since late January, McManus — known as Celynn Freeman before her nuptials a week ago — had been working closely and rapidly with longtime Summit County local Julie Wright-Kile to plan her spontaneous mid-winter wedding. The two sent dozens of emails back and forth in the few weeks leading up to the wedding, digging into everything from photography to affordable lodging to how exactly the bride-to-be should deliver her vows.
Still, the two had never come face to face until McManus and her fiancé, Ryan, arrived at Sapphire Point overlooking Dillon Reservoir shortly before the wedding. But it’s Wright-Kile’s M.O.: After nearly two decades in Summit County and two years in the wedding business, she knows a perfect wedding is about the bride and groom, not the cost of a flower arrangement or the name of a dress designer or, of course, the person overseeing the exchange of vows.
“My warmth for what I do is real,” Wright-Kile says. “I had one bride refer to it as sparkle. I say, ‘What’s your dream?’ and that’s how I really figure out what will make the best ceremony. I’m proud of what I do — nothing makes me happier than when the bride and groom hug me after the wedding and tell me it was everything they hoped for.”
Wright-Kile isn’t a wedding planner per se — even her website homepage says so. As sole owner of Rocky Mountain Dream Weddings, she’s technically known as a wedding officiant, a nondenominational term for the woman (or man) who leads newlyweds through the “I do’s.”
Yet Wright-Kile is much more than a clinical term like wedding officiant implies. She’s part wedding planner, part confidant, part cheerleader, part … well, she puts it best:
“When brides and grooms call me, they often say, ‘We want to get married in Colorado — help,’” says Wright-Kile, a jubilant Texas native who has a charismatic way with words. “And that’s where it starts. Even though they’re only paying me for the wedding, I tell them I’ll be combination wedding officiant, coach, orchestra director and mom, because that’s what I do.”
By now, after hundreds of weddings in every corner of Summit County, Wright-Kile’s cool and confident approach to all aspects of a ceremony has turned her into something of a local celebrity, at least in the wedding community. She knows dozens of photographers, florists, caterers, musicians and the like — all of whom work locally — and Wright-Kile’s familiarity with Summit County puts her clients at ease, particularly when nearly 60 percent are destination guests coming from beyond state lines. (And yes, client is the correct term, even when talking about newlyweds.)
While McManus isn’t quite a destination guest — she’s part of the 30 percent who come from across Colorado — she still lives in Erie, a good five-hour round-trip to Summit, and she barely had time to be on hand during the long process of wedding preparation.
She and her husband were also on a tight budget. Theirs wouldn’t be a spectacle: Just a handful of guests at Sapphire Point, a picturesque and highly in-demand venue Wright-Kile suggested when the couple first approached her.
For McManus, having a genuine expert like Wright-Kile just an email away was a major comfort, and as Valentine’s Day approached, McManus was still just a touch nervous about placing so much faith in a woman she’d never met in person.
When the day arrived, any lingering fears were laid to rest.
“Julie helped us put together an absolutely beautiful, perfectly seamless, stress-free dream wedding in a little over two weeks,” McManus said.
“From the first day we contacted her until the moment we said ‘I do’ she was helpful, incredibly informative, sweet and motivational. Her ideas helped our spontaneity come to fruition without a hitch — well, except that we got hitched.”
OPTOMETRIST TO OFFICIANT
Wright-Kile calls her current occupation her true calling, but she started in a much different type of industry: optometry. After retiring early from her practice in the mid-‘90s, she found herself in Summit “at somewhat loose ends,” she says, working odd jobs here and there without finding anything truly passionate.
Until she came across weddings.
“I was done with my career as an optometrist, but I wanted to find a way to interact with people and stay sharp,” Wright-Kile says. “I wanted to provide a service that I enjoyed. I wanted to do something that was important. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who needed something I can provide.”
Soon after Wright-Kile was ordained as a wedding officiant — she makes it clear her ordination is solely for weddings, not religious outreach — she began tapping her massive network or friends and acquaintances to first find clients and then pass along business to other locals.
As Wright-Kile explains, the local wedding industry is growing rapidly. She oversaw roughly 75 weddings in 2014 alone, from incredibly intricate productions at TenMile Station to small, laid-back ceremonies similar to the Valentine’s Day wedding. She says Colorado is the second-most popular U.S. wedding destination behind Hawaii, and as weddings get smaller and more intimate, outdoor venues like those in Summit continue to draw more prospective newlyweds.
“I’m attracting people to come here instead of the old Las Vegas routine,” Wright-Kile says. “People are saying we want to keep things small, keep things just friends and family, but they still want to have fun and relax and be in a new place.”
In simple terms, Wright-Kile is a sort of wedding concierge. She has the contacts and the insight to guide clients in the right direction, but she also knows when to sit back and listen. She writes every ceremony from scratch, incorporating anything a couple might want: custom vows, religious elements, even sign interpreters at a recent wedding for hearing-impaired bride and groom.
Dawn Hamilton of Greeley came to Wright-Kile early last year for an August wedding. She and her now-husband, Brian, had both been married before and wanted a small, intimate wedding. But they also wanted to incorporate their love for the mountains, so Wright-Kile suggested Sapphire Point for the ceremony and a lodge in Frisco for the pre-wedding stay.
“It was beautiful — beautiful weather, a beautiful ceremony, and Julie was absolutely incredible when she spoke,” Hamilton said. “When I go to some weddings, you can tell the person wants to talk about themselves or gets off topic, but she was incredible, telling our stories and talking about our love and how she could feel our love. She even cried at the end.”
Wright-Kile doesn’t cry at every ceremony, but she has no qualms getting invested in each bride and groom. She remembers dates and names and even weather conditions for just about every ceremony she’s performed — quite a feat after so many busy summers and increasingly busy winters,
Another recent newlywed, Nicole Wagner, is one of the few Summit County locals who opted to get married in her hometown. She and husband Trevor also wanted to hold an intimate ceremony, but seclusion was more important than trading vows at the top of Peak 8 (Wright-Kile doesn’t discourage mountain-top ceremonies, but she doesn’t necessarily encourage them, either). The two were married last summer at Aspen Canyon Ranch, a 500-acre property where their wedding party and the majority of guests camped, danced and partied around a campfire following the ceremony.
“It was the most relaxing, fun, camp-side kind of wedding,” says Wagner, her heard about Wright-Kile through her hairdresser at Studio 269 Salon in Frisco. “It was everything we wanted — that outdoor, Colorado wedding.”
And for Wright-Kile, it’s all she’s ever wanted to provide: the perfect companion for a perfect day.
“For me, it’s very fulfilling to provide what a couple needs in Summit County, as well as fulfill their dream,” Wright-Kile says. “That just makes me feel good. After every wedding, I’m literally on a high. Nothing makes me happier than a successful, beautiful wedding that is the one of the couple’s dreams.”
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