Wisteria is hard to describe. The website explains it as a “special place…an event site, campground, nature preserve, and residential community nestled in the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio.” What’s special is not necessarily all those aspects of the property that covers nearly a square mile, but the people who congregate there.
I visited three of my favorite folks in the world—Summer, Eric, and Michael—at Wisteria during a recent work weekend. One afternoon Bill, a member of Wisteria’s Board, endured my questions as we sat in the campground under the shade of joined Airstream awnings. What, now, is this place? What usually goes on here?
He had answers—but first, a little background. Twenty years ago the original land owners came upon an opportunity to obtain a reclaimed strip mine that they soon named Wisteria (a word that was given to one of the founders during a vision). Shares were sold and a community was formed to manage, enjoy, steward, and monetize the property. A camping and festival area was developed, and alternative groups began to arrive and expand their minds at the Pagan Spirit Gathering, the clothing-optional Starwood Festival and its consciousness exploration workshops, the Paradise music and visionary art festival, X-Day (sponsored by the Church of the SubGenius), and other New Age eco-spirituality convocations. You get the picture.
In addition to renting the grounds to festival operators (and hosting their own gatherings Summer Solstice and Autumn Fires), there’s also a designated nature preserve—220 acres of undeveloped greenery and wetness where turtles, frogs, salamanders, wild turkeys, coyotes, foxes, buzzards and a bobcat live. “It’s beautiful,” said Bill. “We mostly leave it alone; we don’t want a lot of people there. It’s not that we avoid it, but we always try to have a sense of reverence about the land.”
The third piece of the Wisteria puzzle is the residential component; homes may be built and occupied onsite if the owner’s lot proposal is accepted by the shareholders.
“We have a sense of vision,” said Bill. “For every one of us it’s a little different, but collectively I’d say it’s about a sustainable community. You can have a life that’s a little more integrated with the world around you. A little more lower-impact. A little bit better about interacting with community. For us, having people come in and experience the campground and festivals is part of sharing that vision and connection.”
Bill said he “fell in love with this place” after attending Starwood, and became an active member in the Wisteria democracy. “I think people make better decisions when they work as a team,” he said. “Any organization that’s larger than one individual has the opportunity to grow past the shortcomings of individuals.”
Bill, the other Board members, and a merry band of volunteers work hard to groom and grow Wisteria. They paint and build, dig drainage and post holes, balance the budget, coordinate event staff, plan the landscaping, oversee the commercial grade equipment and outside professionals required for said landscape, add whimsical touches, and erect and maintain structures and gathering spaces. A shipshape, campground-style shower house is a recent upgrade. Work on the internet tower and cabling is completed, and high-speed wireless is now available.
“Wisteria is a beautiful place in nature where you can come home and be yourself and connect authentically with the land and the people around you,” Bill explained. Emphasis on private place. A very private place to engage in what you will, unseen from the remote road that leads to it. “If an event promoter or anyone is looking to host their own gathering, we offer a defined space where they can do their thing, whatever their thing is, as long as they aren’t breaking any laws,” he said. “Be happy, explore your vision. If their vision is to hang out and play volleyball, that’s great. If they want an intense music festival or a pagan eco-spiritual experience, that’s great too.”
He replied with a sigh when I asked if he thought there might be something spiritually special inherent in the land itself. “I think the land is sacred, but I think all land is sacred,” he finally said. “I also think work is sacred, and the effort you put into something to try to make it amazing. Years and years, and blood, sweat and tears have been spent to reclaim this place. That’s what makes it sacred.”
“Ownership contributes to the sacredness of a place,” he continued. “People stepping up to the plate and saying ‘I will do this, and I will do a good job.’ People might come into a community—I count myself one of those people—maybe spiritually deaf-mute. Stuck in their own way. I was very self absorbed before I came. Here you get a lot of direct feedback; if you’re messing up, someone will tell you. I think that sort of authenticity promotes growth, as giving to something larger than yourself does. People come here for the amazing festival experience, and have a great time, and party and dance and drum—and then realize there’s so much more.”
Event planners, Wisteria might be the venue you’re looking for. Staff your own gathering or hire Wisteria volunteers to run the services, performance stage(s), commercial kitchen, and Caffeina’s coffee house in the common pavilion. “It’s negotiable, depending on what you need,” said Bill. “It’s always custom fitted.”
Wisteria might be a nice place for a destination wedding, or a big family or college reunion. Write to email@example.com. I hear the fall colors are lovely. And toilets that flush are on their way soon.