FRANKFORT — Few brides can claim a wedding venue was created just for their special day. That was the case for newlywed Brenna Banktson.

The Cherry Barn rustic wedding venue is tucked into the countryside between Frankfort and Benzonia at the historic Nugent cherry and apple orchard. The family farm established in 1918 leaped into the wedding business when Ben Nugent and fiancé Brenna sought a location for their 2018 ceremony.

“My husband and I knew we wanted something smaller, local and with a country feel, “Banktson said.

A little brainstorming and a lot of elbow grease created the ideal site for their dream wedding. The Nugent family pulled together to transform an old farm structure housing young cherry trees into a romantic setting. The building’s aged siding came down and a new floor was added over the transparent roof. The groom hand-built a pergola for the nuptials set amidst the apple blossoms for the start of their happily after ever.

“After we had my son’s wedding there, we realized what a great place it was,” said Beth Nugent. “We decide to open it for other people.”

The Cherry Barn overlooking the orchard opened to the public in July. It seats 150 people under a see-through roof supported by beams adorned with twinkling string lights for night events.

“The area has so many venues. We offer a beautiful, different setting,” Beth said. “I don’t feel like we’re competing.”

In an economic environment in which family farms are vanishing and some remain viable by turning to agritainment, Nugent Orchards has found celebrating love a perfect niche.

“My father-in-law, Harry Nugent, was a person who was always looking for ways to make things better to keep the farm a working farm,” Beth said. “I feel like he would like the direction that his family is taking it, including the fact that we still grow apples and cherries.”

While the Cherry Barn came into being as a pop-up venue, the Nature event venue at Maple City was nine years in the making.

Bryan and Emma Cloninger relocated to the Leelanau Peninsula from the French Riviera where he worked in the movie business and she in tourism. Their happily ever dream is based on helping others enjoy nature’s gifts.

Five years ago, the couple purchased 78 acres to create a venue they named simply Nature.

The facility’s Great Nest opened for events in March and is midway through its first wedding season. The contemporary-styled event structure is built of salvaged wood, including trees downed by the county’s straight wind storm of 2015.

“We respect nature itself and have a sense of preservation for future guests,” Bryan said. They realize their ideals “ …through our action plans toward net positive energy, being a zero-waste facility, and going way beyond carbon neutral with our landscape, or as we call them, Living Systems.”

Nature is also a Dark Sky compliant facility where weddings beneath starry northern skies add to the romantic ambiance.

The Great Nest accommodates 178 people. An outdoor tent increases capacity to 300. A swimming pond, bonfire areas and two safari-type glamping tents integrate the beauty of the north woods environment with modern comforts.

Alyssa, a Michigan native, and Canadian Michael Topolinski tied the knot at Nature June 22. The international couple met while attending Michigan State University. Although they currently reside in Bucharest, Romania, they wanted to marry in Michigan.

“I knew right away this was the spot,” Alyssa said. “It was outdoorsy, but still extremely elegant with first-class amenities. The tone of the space is peaceful and romantic, and it gives you room to create your vision.”

Bryan said Nature complements the area’s existing wedding venues, which still has room to grow. “There’s more demand than supply,” he said.

Bryan noted that most local venues are booked a year or more in advance. Nature and the Cherry Barn, as new venues on the wedding scene, may still offer open dates for last minute nuptials backdropped by Up North glories.

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