Tying the Knot: A Well-Kept Secret

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Chattokee Lodge, a retreat for hunting and fishing parties, is an increasingly popular spot for couples to say their vows.

story by BRETT BRALLEY JAILLET

photos by BRIGHTWOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

When Tristin and Lance derrick were looking for a place to tie the knot, they knew they wanted a location that was unique, fit their budget and provided just the right backdrop for a springtime wedding of quaint and casual elegance.

The couple found just that at Chattokee Lodge, a family-run haven for hunters and fishers with rustic architecture surrounded by woods and a lake, all nestled at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in Gaylesville, Ala.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The lodge, owned by husband and wife Harlan and Sheila Starr,opened in 2008 after the Starrs built it themselves with timber harvested from the property. While it primarily serves as a hunting and fishing lodge accommodating up to 10 guests with guided trips provided by the Starrs, it also has become an increasingly  popular wedding venue, says Harlan Starr.

Hunting and fishing were lifelong hobbies of Starr, who was in the cattle business for nearly 25 years before he decided he just wanted to do something different – and something he enjoyed.

So he and his wife built the lodge. Sheila Starr decorated it in a traditional style that fits the mountain-retreat feel while introducing a chic and elegant flair. The space was finished with antlers and game harvested from the land.

After the lodge was open about a year, word spread among the Starrs’ friends about its potential as a wedding venue. Now they have a wedding season mixed in with hunting and fishing seasons, Harlan Starr says.

Couples who marry at Chattokee Lodge can choose among several spots on the property to hold their ceremonies and receptions. The pavilion, which the Starrs built once they started booking more weddings, is a popular option. And the Starrs do everything – from cooking and catering to decorating and providing day-of coordination.

“We really try to work with the couple’s desires,” Harlan Starr says. Tristin Derrick says the Starrs did just that for her wedding.

“We were going for a rustic, chic sort of look,” she says, which is how she and her husband landed on the lodge as the perfect place to host their 100 or so guests from all corners of Alabama.

From hanging string lights and chandeliers she found to arranging centerpieces with décor she and her mother gathered to catering the food and working with a baker to design the cake, Derrick says the Starrs accommodated the couple’s vision.

The Derricks’ wedding was teeming with burlap, wildflowers, vintage décor (like old suitcases and weathered doors) and glistening chandeliers dangling from tree branches.

“The truth is, though, that you really don’t have to put a decoration out there; it’s gorgeous just the way they positioned the pavilion on that hill with the green  pasture and the mountains in the background – it’s beautiful,” Derrick says.

The ceremony was held in the pavilion, which echoes the style and structure found in the lodge, and then guests transitioned to a dinner on the grounds between the lodge and the pavilion, with café lights illuminating the setting.

The menu – fully prepared by the Starrs – featured hot hors d’oeuvres complete with a sliced pork tenderloin and finished with cake. The party ended with dancing under the pavilion and a sparkler exit to send the couple on their merry way.

“It was amazing, and so much worry was out of our hands,” Derrick says. “I really think the lodge is one of Alabama’s best-kept secrets.”

For information about scheduling an event or hunting/fishing retreat at Chattokee Lodge, see chattokeelodge.com.[/s2If]