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Shopping for a wedding venue? Check out Four Rivers Environmental Education Center

A wedding couple embracing by a river.
Bailey Testerman and Kole El-Talabani tie the knot at Four Rivers. (Photo courtesy of Bailey Testerman)

When Bailey Testerman was first scouting out wedding venues, the bride-to-be said she was looking for a site that was as “green” as possible.

“The health of our planet is incredibly important to me …,” she wrote in an email. “I wanted to reduce the environmental impact of our wedding as much as possible. Choosing an environmentally conscious venue was a way to live out my values while wedding planning.”

As soon as Testerman and her fiancĂ©, Kole El-Talabani, toured the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center site, the Kankakee couple knew it was the perfect place for them, Bailey said. The venue was environmentally green, but also surrounded by lush forest greenery. They were married Aug. 12, 2023.

Forest setting

Nestled in McKinley Woods preserve in Channahon, the Forest Preserve District's Four Rivers is a popular wedding venue because it offers so many options for couples and event planners, said Mary Thomas, the site’s reservation manager.

Four Rivers features an Illinois River Grand Hall, which can seat up to 150 people, an outdoor patio, a picnic shelter suitable for outdoor ceremonies, and wedding suite, all in a beautiful setting in the woods near where the DuPage, Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers meet to form the Illinois River.

The building's unique interior also has exhibit space filled with a 2,000-gallon river fish aquarium, a mussel display and an oversized bird feeder/birdbath viewing area. 

Staff assistance

Staff at Four Rivers help couples by providing a list of approved caterers and eco-friendly decorating ides, which are not required but are encouraged. For instance, instead of water bottles, a water bar could be set up so there is less plastic waste, Thomas said. And couples can use smaller cakes as their table centerpieces. Once the cake is served, there is nothing to throw away if borrowed glass cake dishes are used, she explained.

Kylee Beckwith, the site’s guest services associate, said bridesmaids could be encouraged to wear dresses they already own instead of buying new. 

“It’s kind of eclectic, but it can all work together,” she said. “And you don’t have the waste of a buying a new dress that you won’t wear again that could wind up in a landfill.” 

According to Thomas and Beckwith, the venue, which recently received the 2024 WeddingWire Couples' Choice Award, is popular because it is:

  • An all-inclusive site with ceremony, reception and wedding suite space and the Grand Hall is a blank slate for decorating. 
  • Surrounded by nature, which attracts those who want to begin their married life surrounded by trees, flowers, wildlife and rivers. 
  • A "green" facility with tips from staff and caterers on how to host a ceremony that has less of an impact on the environment. 
  • Perfect for photo opportunities. Couples can pose with prairie, woodland or river backgrounds. ”You can go anywhere and get a beautiful picture,” Beckwith said. “There are different views for every season and they’re so gorgeous.”  
  • Staffed with Forest Preserve employees who make sure couples, their guests and the caterers and DJs all have what they need to keep the party going.
  • An accessible facility that recently received the National Inclusion Project’s first nature center accreditation in the country.

The inclusion components came in handy recently when a bride’s nephew was struggling at the beginning of her ceremony because of the loud noise. 

“Because he is autistic, this would have continued to be a problem, resulting in the family leaving,” the bride wrote after her wedding. “The staff were problem-solvers and offered (noise canceling) earphones and a kit to help him calm down, which happened immediately when he put the earphones on. He kept those on the entire night and enjoyed hours of wedding reception fun.”

Stunning grounds

For Bailey Testerman, the setting was perfect for her wedding because she could have her ceremony outside at a picnic shelter and then move inside for the reception.  

“Our wedding was held at the beautiful Four Rivers shelter overlooking the water and then we moved inside to the Grand Hall for the reception,” she said. “… It was so worth it to have an all-in-one venue. Our bridal party was able to get dressed at the venue prior to the ceremony and we loved that our guests didn’t have to travel in between the ceremony and reception.”

Testerman said she had a "whimsical" and "eclectic" wedding theme and found most of her decorations at thrift stores and on Facebook marketplace. She said she appreciated that staff prioritized the environment when curating the vendor list.

“And the grounds are stunning,” she said. “We love them!”

For additional information, visit the Facility Rental page for Four Rivers.