Destination wedding? Congress plays the party pooper

As lawmakers wage ideological war over government spending and Obamacare, Zach Kouwe's big plan for a national park wedding hangs in the balance.

Kouwe, 35, is scheduled to marry Drake Lucas, 34, on Oct. 13 at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, which is one of more than 400 park units closed yesterday by the government shutdown.

"We're trying to figure out a plan B," said Kouwe, a Brooklyn resident who said he was up past midnight Monday watching C-SPAN in nervous anticipation. "Hopefully, Congress gets its act together."

In addition to turning away an estimated 750,000 national park visitors a day, this week's government shutdown -- the first since 1996 -- could derail scores of weddings from Yosemite to the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah and the National Mall.

Lovebirds who have stressed for months over caterers, dress colors and quarreling in-laws must now worry about whether Congress will reopen their wedding venues in time.


The shutdown has already caused one wedding party to cancel its reservation this weekend at Shenandoah's Skyland Resort, said Helen Morton, director of sales and marketing for Delaware North Cos. Inc., which operates the resort at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

"We just felt very poorly for them," Morton said, adding that the bride and groom received a full refund and have secured another location in Page County, Va.

Another wedding is scheduled the following weekend, which would coincide with the peak of Shenandoah's famous fall foliage, she said.

Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Park Service's National Mall and Memorial Parks unit, this week told The Washington Post that there are 24 weddings scheduled on the Mall in October. Great Smoky Mountains officials told a Knoxville, Tenn., television station that the park, the nation's most visited, has 27 weddings planned in the first two weeks of October alone.

Kouwe said he picked Yosemite because his fiancée grew up in California, hiked with her dad in Yosemite and worked at a national park lodge in Montana.

The historic 1920s lodge features an airy, timbered interior and stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point.

Kouwe said he's considering moving the wedding to the Tenaya Lodge outside the park's southern gate but said it lacks the sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley as well as the park's romantic vibe.

"There are a lot worse problems in the world than me getting married," said Kouwe, who said he blames the shutdown on a "small group of ideologues" in Congress bent on striking down the president's signature health care reforms. "But they need to know it affects real people."

Kouwe said he has only nine immediate family members coming to his wedding, which would make venue changes relatively easy -- though no less frustrating.

Others including Sean Coughlin, 26, of Burbank, Calif., are not so lucky.

Coughlin is scheduled to marry his fiancée Sunday at the Paramount Ranch in California's Santa Monica Mountains. He's bringing 80 guests, half of whom are flying in from the East Coast, where he grew up.

"The wedding must go on," the Philadelphia native said last night as he was leaving his job at Nickelodeon Games to begin his vacation. "Instead of enjoying it, I'm scouting new locations."

The Park Service's 2,700-acre ranch, which was purchased in 1927 by Paramount Studios and used as a set for numerous Western movies, features a replica Main Street and a sheriff's office where Coughlin planned to install a photo booth for his guests.

The ceremony was to take place in an open field next to a large oak tree.

Coughlin said the Park Service contacted him early yesterday to say its staff had been furloughed and the gates to the ranch had been closed. While the park staff has been very accommodating and provided a list of contacts at California state parks, few sites offer the same history, scenery and amenities as the ranch, he said.

"Paramount Ranch is one of the most unique places we found," Coughlin said. Malibu Creek State Park has similar open fields, he said, but it also lacks electricity, meaning they'd have to haul in generators to make a go of it.

Nicole of San Diego planned to get married Saturday at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, where she and her fiancé first fell in love camping together and later got engaged.

"I'm pretty much in a panic," said the 28-year-old graphic designer, who declined to provide her last name. "We were aware of [the shutdown], but we never in a million years thought it was going to come to it."

Although Nicole said she has a plan B and C, neither location is as sentimental to her and her groom as Joshua Tree, which is named after the native yuccalike tree that dots the park's Mojave Desert landscape.

"The fact that the government is standing in the way of my dream wedding is very frustrating," she said. "It makes me sad how many people's special days are being ruined because of this."

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