Wisteria Reclaims Corporate Buisness Model; Abanonded Mine Land

For many, Wisteria is a nature preserve, a venue for private and public events, and a campground. However, the land doubles as a corporation that seven families call home.Located in Meigs County, the 620 acres of reclaimed mine land was founded in 1996 by Charlene Suggs and Todd Alan with the goal of restructuring the corporate business model to foster community and environmental growth.
Humble Beginnings
In the ‘50s the area that is now Wisteria was rich with coal and its hillsides were torn into forstrip mining. After the region was depleted of its coal roughly ten years later the company left the area in ruins. Locals who lived in the area during the time remember the fields looking like the surface of Mars —covered in rocks and devoid of life.Once the land began to erode alarmingly close to the main roads and coal taxes were implemented to fund reclamation efforts, the state of Ohio started to administrate reclamation on the land. The process cost more than $1 million.
The Birth of A Vision
What makes Wisteria so different is its combined business structure and product. While many corporations are criticized for depleting land and resources, Wisteria is founded on the principle of restoration and land-stewardship: a philosophy fueled by Suggs’ experience in corporate America.
Throughout the latter part of the ‘80s Suggs worked as the manager of a Kinko’s print shop inNew Haven, Connecticut, and later as a General Manager for a software developer corporation,Hammerlab.During her time at Kinkos she was sent to manager training at the corporation’s headquarters inCalifornia. This was when she recognized how useful the business structure of a corporationwas. This is where she first began to conceptualize using the same model to provide a legalumbrella for a collection of households to increase their wealth and protect their collectiveinterests.  
Suggs left corporate life in 1987 to finish her BA in Writing/Editing and Biological Sciences. After she graduated, she met her former husband and learned they shared a common interest in establishing a sustainable community.Around the time they met, Todd Alan started a band, which Suggs helped manage and toured with throughout the early ‘90s. Together they headlined various events on the festival circuit for five years. While on tour they would host and attend workshops on land-based community.She and her husband blended these experiences to create Wisteria’s business model.
Thus, Wistera was born. With a little faith and a lot of physical labor, Suggs, Todd Alan and 20 like-minded individuals came together to make that dream a reality on this reclaimed land in 1996.“When we came here it was a field—there was nothing—we had the remnants of the logging roads that we threw gravel on and used, but everything we did—every time we had an event,we just piled that money back into the land, and after a while it should give us dividends. We’ve been free labor because that’s the only way we could afford it,” Suggs says.
Green Instead of Greedy
The stereotypes surrounding corporations usually include unsustainable practices and profit-seeking ventures, but Wisteria flips this notion on its head.“This is a long term vision-and it wants to be profitable—but not at the expense of the future and I think that’s part of the value we’re creating,” Suggs says.Most of the permanent houses utilize solar panels and collect rainwater in order to reduce notonly the cost of living, but also the environmental footprint left behind. To make the campsite a more sustainable venture, the members of Wisteria have incorporated an environmentally friendly waste-water system.Without this system processing thousands of gallons of shower water, Wisteria would have to have the waste water pumped out of a septic tank, put onto a truck, use fossil fuels to transportit to a plant, and then pay to have it chemically processed. Instead, the water goes into a settling tank, flows through a system of pipes into a waste stabilization pond—where the water is treated by natural processes such as respiration.  “There’s a lot of ways we are creating value—because value is more than just money—value is reflected in money, but its really not the only measuring stick. We’re trying to create value as the quality of life that we want, what we’re putting out there, which is respecting land,” Suggs explains.
More To Come
Looking toward the future, Wisteria has plans to add solar panels to the campground’s café and dining area and install a pond energy system for incoming permanent residents. The corporation also plans to continue hosting workshops on how to live sustainably and use the land resourcefully with hopes of inspiring visitors to challenge the unsustainable practices ingrained in society today.Ultimately, Suggs’ mission is well underway: “We are reclaiming ourselves as we reclaim this land because we’re undoing a lot of that negative programming … we’re transforming ourselves as well as as the land because we’re beings of this land too.”


Southeast Ohio strives to spotlight the culture and community within our 21-county region and aims to inform, entertain and inspire readers with stories that hit close to home. Southeast Ohio is the first student-produced regional magazine in the country. Every semester, approximately 25 students enrolled in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism produce an issue of the magazine, which is published in print twice a year. The staff generates story ideas, conducts interviews, writes stories and designs the magazine in only 15 weeks. The magazine has won several Regional Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.