The Stowe Recreation Path holds special memories for Michelle Towle of Waterville and Jonathan Stiles of Duxbury, Mass.
During their first summer as a couple, they enjoyed romantic walks there. It’s also the place they became engaged last New Year’s Eve.
They met four years ago at Festival of Life, a competitive youth sports and arts event sponsored by the Nazarene Church.
At the time, John was a high school senior and Michelle was a sophomore at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, where she was studying nursing.
They stayed in touch when Stiles enrolled at Eastern Nazarene University as a psychology major.
“We were friends for three years,” Michelle said. “I didn’t want a long-distance relationship.”
In late 2012, Michelle visited John at college. The following spring, John visited Michelle and asked her father for permission to begin dating her.
Soon after, they had their first date at the Bee’s Knees in Morrisville.
When it came time to propose, John wanted a location that was meaningful as well as romantic, and the recreation path stood out. He enlisted a friend, professional couples photographer Kristina Ainsworth Nalette, to capture the event from a distance.
He settled on the second bridge on the rec path because he liked the idea of having the river and Stowe Community Church in the background of the photographs. He decided to propose on New Year’s Eve during a scheduled visit to Vermont.
“At Thanksgiving, we went for a walk so I could make sure that was the spot and I could describe it to Kristina,” John said.
Michelle, who wasn’t expecting John to propose until fall 2015, was surprised when he asked her to take a walk on a 20-degree day.
They were leaning on the bridge and taking photos when she asked, “Is there a reason why we’re here?”
“Funny you should ask,” John replied. “I have a question to ask you. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
Nalette, who was just several yards away, hidden from view, was able to photograph the entire proposal.
Afterward, Michelle and John went to Black Cap Coffee to celebrate. When Michelle excitedly explained that she had just gotten engaged, the barista offered them free hot chocolate and dessert.
John still had another surprise up his sleeve. After the couple left Stowe village, he drove to Piecasso. Both sets of parents were waiting there for them with cards and gifts and they enjoyed lunch together.
“It was very sweet and definitely a nice way to continue the fun of the day,” Michelle said.
The couple plans a 2016 wedding on May 16, with a reception at Jay Peak.