What’s the best place to pop the question?

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Bryan Wilkie proposes Dec. 27 at Neal Preserve to Marissa Garbacik, who accepts with a kiss. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

She likes nature and sunsets.

She loves Bryan Wilkie.

Preserve that thought.

Marissa Garbacik, 23, of Brighton, Michigan, said yes to Wilkie’s offer of marriage Dec. 27, 2017, on the bayfront overlook on a nature trail at Neal Preserve on Perico Island.

Wilkie, 26, of Plymouth, Michigan, is an Anna Maria Island regular, whose parents — Michigan natives Jeff and Mary — have lived in Holmes Beach for 14 years.

Wilkie decided to propose while he and Garbacik visited his parents for the holidays.

In preparing for the trip, several weeks earlier he asked Garbacik’s parents for her hand in marriage.

And he set out to arrange a surprise proposal.

His mom, dad and sister helped with the details.

At the appointed hour, the family placed framed pictures and some select mementos — past gifts from Wilkie to Garbacik, each engraved over time with a letter, unbeknownst to her, from the phrase, “Marry Me” — on a railing in the Neal Preserve overlooking Anna Maria Sound.

The pair had dinner plans that evening at Island Ocean Star in Anna Maria.

As they started out for dinner, Garbacik said she was thinking the restaurant was in the opposite direction. But he suggested taking in the sunset at the overlook — a place they’d visited before.

She agreed to the detour without suspicion.

As they approached the overlook, she saw the gifts and mementos and, then, Wilkie on his knee.

Both hands went to the sides of her face.

It was the surprise of her lifetime.

Garbacik is a graduate student, finishing her master’s in accounting at Michigan State and preparing for the last of her CPA exams. She will begin work as an auditor for Deloitte in the summer.

Wilkie is a senior project engineer at Aristeo, a construction company in Livonia, Michigan.

They met online a year ago — on the Bumble social app — and became best friends. They also found they have mutual friends through her sister, Kayla.

Wilkie shared his island stomping grounds and the preserve for the first time in March with Garbacik, so it seemed the stars were aligned for his island proposal.

Asked about her impression of Anna Maria Island, she said she’s always liked it.

“Now I love it.”

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