Kane, a community in the Allegheny National Forest and Surrounds Landscape of the Pennsylvania Wilds, became home for five remote workers in September. Coming from all walks of life — and all across the country — these individuals got three weeks to explore, make connections and enjoy the outdoor recreation that Kane offers in spades.
The Kane experience is the second iteration of The Wilds are Working program (the first was held in Bellefonte this summer), and it offered a chance for remote workers to experience life in Kane’s walkable community, local ecosystem and easy-to-access outdoor recreation opportunities and attractions.
“The long term goal of this initiative goes beyond making it a destination for remote workers,” said Abbi Peters, COO for the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, which initiated the Wilds Are Working program. “That component is obviously beneficial, as we have great communities with opportunities for remote workers to be a part of. But the heart of this program is about connections — connecting remote workers to opportunities in communities and our public lands, connecting residents to their fellow residents, connecting communities to their own assets (both natural and human), and communities connecting to evaluate how welcoming they are to others.”
We caught up with the remote workers during their last week in Kane to talk to them about the connections that they’d forged with Kane, with nature and with themselves. Here’s what they had to say.
Taylor Rojek is a senior editor from Emmaus, Pennsylvania. She said that someone shared the opportunity in a Facebook group and it immediately clicked with her. “I love the PA Wilds,” she said. “And this seemed like a way to experience another community in a more permanent way. It looked like a perfect way to get out of my own town and explore.”
And when she found out that she was picked out of more than 70 applicants? “I was so stoked!” she said, but added that it also added a problem — she already had a trip planned for the same time. Ultimately she decided to pick the Kane adventure, and boy, is she glad that she did.
“It’s gone really well,” she said when I talked to her during her last few days in Kane. She said that the area’s outdoor adventures made the experience so memorable for her. “The access to outdoor recreation is really great. There are so many trails and different wild areas that are really unique on the east coast. One day, I went mountain biking at Jakes Rocks, and then went paddleboarding after the ride and a bald eagle flew overhead. It was just a perfect day.”
As part of the Kane experience, each remote worker was partnered with a community resident who came alongside them and made the visit more personal. Taylor was matched with Brandy Schimp, the mayor of Kane. The two texted throughout her stay, and Brandy lent her binoculars to Taylor when she went to Benezette to watch elk. “Brandy was a lovely resource,” Taylor said.
So, the million dollar question — could Taylor see herself moving to the PA Wilds? “Even though my job is remote, my husband works for a college and doesn’t have the same flexibility,” she said. “But I have already been googling cabins in the PA Wilds — I can definitely see myself having a cabin here.”
Samantha Spengler is a research editor living in Philadelphia, PA. She said that when a friend sent her an article about the experience from the Philadelphia Inquirer, she jumped at the chance. “First, it was free, which is huge,” she said. “Trying a new place long term can be expensive and is definitely not in my budget. And lately, I’ve been reflecting, wondering if I am taking advantage of the opportunities that being a remote worker gives me. This was the perfect opportunity to do something different.”
She was excited to find that she’d been chosen … and also a little unsure. “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “Would it be like a 3-week-long work conference, and always being on, always networking, always visible? But in our very first Zoom meeting, I met a few people from Kane and they were so relaxed and so enthusiastic about the opportunity, without being cheesy. They were the kind of people I wanted to do stuff with.”
And when she got to Kane, the feeling of belonging just got stronger. “Everyone has been so insanely welcoming,” she said.
Her favorite part? “I was floored by how beautiful it is here,” she said. “I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.”
“I definitely liked how people were really close and united in energy,” she said. “It makes Kane a great place to live. It was so great to be close surrounded by wilderness — there’s a number of hikes within a 20 minute drive, and you can’t get that in Philly.”
Samantha said that her three weeks in Kane gave her perspective that she didn’t have before. “I had never considered relocating to a small town before this. But now, I could see myself somewhere like this. It’s an option that I never thought of before.”
And as she heads back to the city, she says that her biggest memories of her time are of the community that welcomed her. “I was so immediately included. It felt great to be part of a place like this. Kane changed my perspective about small towns — I didn’t realize how forward thinking it was. The energy and drive here is making this a great place.”
Madison (Mads) Hanna is a self-professed “digital nomad” and founder of a brand storytelling company. And even though she was born and raised in Chicago, the PA Wilds were deeply ingrained into her childhood. “My extended family all lived in Clarion, so I made a lot of trips back to Pennsylvania when I was growing up,” she said. As an adult, she moved to Denver, and her cousins kept saying that she was missing out on the PA Wilds experience.
“Denver is a very transient place, and during COVID, even more so. Tons of people have flooded in over the past two years. What used to be a 40 minute commute to go skiing can now take up to three hours, cutting short what’s supposed to be a fun and active day. So, I’ve found myself drawn to smaller communities, closer connections and quicker access to things.”
When Mads found out that she’d been chosen for the Kane remote worker experience, she said she was ready to “get there immediately.”
“When I got here, I literally took pictures of empty parking lots. To be able to get to a mountain bike trail with no traffic or competition for parking was amazing,” she said.
“I underestimated small town main street culture and community,” she added. “There is so much more going on than I ever imagined. So much to see and feel. Everyone is super welcoming. Everyday there was something happening.”
Her favorite things in Kane? “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find such great poke bowls here (so that was a happy surprise!),” she said. “The coffee shop was great. And the outdoor recreation opportunities like Allegheny Reservoir, Hector Falls, Jakes Rocks, Chapman State Park — seeing them in autumn totally transformed those experiences!”
“This program makes total sense,” she said. “Don’t discount how much curiosity and almost envy city remote workers have for working in remote communities. People are more hungry to leave the cities than you realize, and they are open minded to try something like this for a few weeks. This is such a generous opportunity, and so easy to say yes. I would totally consider a move to a place like this — easy, fun and beautiful.”
Photo at right by Mads Hanna. Parking at Jakes Rocks proved easier than anticipated, giving Hanna even more time to enjoy the outdoors of the Pennsylvania Wilds and explore.
Stephanie Huynh is a product analyst living in Philadelphia. She said that after two years of working remotely from her bedroom, the experience seemed like a great opportunity to explore a new place and experience more outdoor activities.
When she found out she’d been chosen — after figuring out logistics for getting her cat to Kane with her — she was so happy that she’d be able to experience autumn in rural PA. “I love crisp fall weather and the changing leaves!” she said.
“It’s been going well!” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment to go from city-life to slower-paced living, but we are enjoying the access to nature and the small town events. Everyone we’ve met has been so hospitable and friendly. I was shocked by how the town comes together to support the local sports teams. I grew up in the suburbs of NJ, and that wasn’t as much of a priority there. It definitely makes you feel like you’re a part of a closer knit community.”
Her assigned “buddy” was Lisi, who told her about a Saturday morning yoga class that Stephanie says “was SO revitalizing and soothing.”
“I loved it, and the local friends we made welcomed us when we arrived, which was so sweet,” she said.
“The access to trails can’t be beat. After work, my partner and I biked on the Knox & Kane Rail trail while the sun was setting and it felt straight out of a movie. We borrowed bikes from a local family, which was such a friendly gesture. This isn’t something I’d be able to do as easily in Philly.”
Stephanie said that while she currently loves living in Philly, she and her partner would definitely consider living somewhere more rural when they settle down to have a family. “I see us coming back here to camp and re-visit the trails,” she said.
Parul Mittal is a senior application security consultant from Arlington, Virginia. The job is new this year, and fully remote. “It was an advantage to live a nomad life,” she said. So when a friend saw the Kane remote worker experience on social media and sent it to her, she was intrigued, and for more than one reason. “I’m actually a frequent visitor to Kane,” she said. “My partner has family roots here. This was a chance to have my own experience here.”
She said that the experience has proven to be pleasantly surprising. “The town is a lot more forward thinking than I anticipated. There’s so much progress, and bringing in new people. It seems like that’s been the history of Kane — everything feels very intentional.”
She said that the geographical location was “shocking.” “It’s so close to upstate New York, just a few hours from Toronto, plus there is so much happening locally. It was hard to find free time. I loved that there was so much to do.”
Parul’s local buddy was Janine, a reading specialist who included her in her many hobbies. “Stained glass, chapstick — yesterday we made soap!” Parul said. “I’m taking some home with me to share with family and friends.”
She said that having a buddy was great because she’s such a people person. “It was really wholesome — I felt like I belonged. And as someone who has moved around a lot, I really appreciated that.”
She says that she can envision herself living and working in Kane, or somewhere similar. “I can disconnect in a way that I can’t do in the city. Plus, anywhere you go in the city, you have to account for an hour or more because of traffic. That’s not an issue here. You can’t put a price on that time. That’s been a huge advantage for me.”
“The remote workers added so much good energy while they were in Kane,” Kate Kennedy, executive director of the Kane Area Development Center, said. “They are so lovely, engaging and curious.”
She says that the inaugural program has been a positive experience. “Even if workers have identified this as a place to come visit, that’s a win. And if they eventually move here, it’s another set of skills invested into our area, another person choosing this as their home. That would increase the momentum of what’s happening in this area.”
Pictured: Kate Kennedy speaks to the crowd of Kane community members and remote workers during the Wilds Are Working welcome event.
Future remote work opportunities in the PA Wilds are expected. To be the first to know when new opportunities become available, sign up for the PA Wilds newsletter at www.wildsareworking.com.
Cara Aungst lives in Central PA with her husband, two dogs and five kids (who are all taller than her). She writes about travel, innovation and industry in the heart of Pennsylvania. You can reach her on LinkedIn or by emailing CaraAungst@gmail.com.