Solar presentations, film screening at Sustainable Development Forum in Monroe County

Sign outside of the Sustainable Development Forum & Craft Fair.

The first annual Sustainable Development Forum & Craft Fair took place at Sweet Springs Resort Park in Monroe County last week. Sweet Springs Institute and Omnivorous Earth co-hosted the event, which was free and open to the public.

The Sustainable Development Forum featured presentations on solar and geothermal energy, water conservation, hemp farming, ecotourism, local food production, and more, by experts from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, WVU Extension Service, WV Hemp Farmers Association, WV Rivers Coalition, local watershed associations, and West Virginia-based sustainable businesses. Attendees were invited to tour a nearby hemp farm, participate in a water sampling, enjoy the wares of local craft and food vendors, and enter a raffle to win a pig.

Event organizer Roseanna Sacco is a leader of the Monroe County Power Co-op (MCPC). MCPC has organized three rounds of solar bulk-purchase programs since 2014 working with Solar United Neighbors. The group also coordinated a successful crowd-funding campaign for a solar array on the Monroe County Public Library. DT Solar donated equipment and labor to that project, which was completed last year.

On Friday evening, Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia Program Director Autumn Long gave a presentation about solar technology, industry trends, and relevant policy in West Virginia. Doyle Tenney of DT Solar and Jeeva Abbate of Yogaville also presented on solar, and attendees were treated to a guided tour of a new Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle. The evening’s activities concluded with a screening of the award-winning documentary “Catching the Sun.”

The main event location was the historic hotel at Sweet Springs Resort. Also known as “Old Sweet,” it is the site of one of the country’s oldest developed mineral springs. The spring water emerges from the ground year-round at 73 degrees Fahrenheit. The water contains high concentrations of iron and carbon dioxide and developed a reputation as medicinal.

In operation since the 1700s, the resort’s heyday lasted from 1820 until the Civil War. The 110,000-square-foot brick hotel, designed by an associate of Thomas Jefferson and built in the 1830s, could accommodate 800 guests. The resort attracted famous visitors including Thomas Jefferson, George and Martha Washington, Chief Justice John Marshall, Marquis de Lafayette, Patrick Henry, and Robert E. Lee.

Sweet Springs continued to operate as a resort until 1945, when the state of West Virginia purchased the property and converted the hotel into a nursing home. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The nursing home closed in 1991, and the property fell into disrepair.

In 2015, Sweet Springs was auctioned to its present owner, O. Ashby Berkley, a local entrepreneur and preservationist who had renovated another area resort, Pence Springs, in the 1980s. Berkley envisions Sweet Springs as a “people’s resort” and epicenter of sustainable development, with a commercial bottling facility for the site’s famed mineral water. The Sustainable Development Forum marked one step toward that goal by welcoming the public to the property and encouraging the local community to participate in its restoration and the growth of sustainable development in West Virginia.

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