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Where in the world is Paonia?

Posted by: april
July 9, 2010
By Kathy Swartz
Solar Energy International Renewable Energy Education Program Team Leader
Based at SEI's Paonia, Colorado eco-campus
SEI eco-campus, Paonia, Colorado
So you're signed up for an SEI workshop in Western Colorado, and you're wondering what to expect when you get to the small town called Paonia. What's it like? What's there to do?

I've found that students' experience in Paonia goes something like this: You arrive on Sunday and the thought passes through your head of "Where in the heck am I and who is this SEI???" And by the end of the week, you tend to linger a little longer than usual in front of the real estate offices pondering over local listings and thinking of "what ifs."

Yeah, we know that we're not close to any major airports. And that you'll have to drive through epic mountain passes or pass by one of the world's largest mesas to get here. And there's a chance you may get stuck behind cattle or sheep migrating from one pasture to another. And that there are more mountains than TVs in town. But seriously, do you want to take your training in metropolis where you spend more time in traffic than outside, where you don't meet locals or get to really know your training buddies?

Having lived in Paonia for more than four years, I still feel like I'm on vacation. Paonia, even though many have never heard of it, really is a destination that we chose intentionally as the place to have some of the best solar training in the U.S. Paonia is in a lush valley in the high desert, with the North Fork River running right through town and surrounded by mountains that still have patches of snow. On your way out to SEI, you'll pass acre-upon-acre of organic fruits. You can expect more berry jams than traffic jams and you won't find a stop light for 30 miles in one direction and 60 in the other. There's always students in class who go mountain biking in the BLM land that's virtually in town, or spend their evenings fishing in the gold-medal waters just west of town. Or camp and hike in the surrounding wilderness.

However, my personal favorite thing to do in Paonia is food. Don't count on fast-food joints; we do have one that sells subs but despite being a small town, we have an incredible variety of restaurants from hole-in-wall (The Diner to Zac's BBQ) to upscale dining (Flying Fork to Fresh and Wyld) to the award-winning Revolution Brewery that features SEIPA (named after your favorite training organization). Plus there's pizza, Mexican, sushi, and American.

Paonia may be a small town but there's always a party to be found. If you miss Gears & Beers, Cherry Days and the Mountain Harvest Festival, don't worry. Just head on down to the brewery or Town Park to catch some live music. Or if grapes spark your thirst more than hops, follow the West Elks Wine Trail for some local viticulture.

And though the flights may be a bit more expensive to get here, you can find some incredibly affordable places to stay for the week. Check out our Paonia lodging list to find a place that meets your needs. Small town ... Yeah we're small town and this small town loves its SEI students!

Welcome to Paonia. You're going to love it!
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