Five remote workers spent a month in Bellefonte with The Wilds are Working. Here’s how it went.
By Cara Aungst
In July, five remote workers arrived in Bellefonte for a month-long The Wilds are Working lifestyle experience. The inaugural program offered a chance for remote workers to experience life in Bellefonte’s charming downtown, and enjoy the outdoor adventure that’s accessible just minutes away, all while working remotely. In addition to paid housing, each guest received a stipend in the form of gift cards that offered local experiences that ranged from dining to recreation. And now that the 31 days of working, kayaking, making friends, eating and exploring Bellefonte’s destinations are over, the remote workers are weighing on their experience.
Nora Noone is a content writer from Los Angeles, California.
She says that she applied for the program because “after spending the last two years working out of my bedroom in Los Angeles, I was open to a major change of scenery. Bellefonte’s coworking spaces, walkability, and proximity to outdoor recreation were all huge factors in my being able to see myself happy here.”
“I was so excited and honored when I found out that I’d been chosen,” she said. “It almost seemed too good to be true.”
Fortunately, Noone says, it wasn’t too good to be true. Instead, it was exactly what she’d hoped it would be: a chance to meet new people, explore new places and activities and experience the charm of small-town life. “My favorite discovery has been all the residential alleyways, which I love walking through and peeping at people’s backyard gardens from,” she said.
“I can’t get enough of Big Spring Spirits,” she added. “Walking through the park to get to it, sitting down to a cute cocktail sample, and trying whatever food Nomad Kitchen is cooking up that week. I also love that you can get ice cream in the middle of Plumb’s Drug Store.”
Noone says that the best part of the PA Wilds lifestyle was that she could interact with the ‘wild’ without needing to go very far. “You see people fly fishing downtown in Spring Creek. Even just driving to the grocery store or in and out of town, you’re hit with beautiful scenic views and farmland.”
So, the million dollar question — was Bellefonte a place where she wanted to set up basecamp for her remote working lifestyle? “It’s definitely tempting, and I think I could be happy here longer term. I need to see how I feel when I get back to California!” she said.
“My favorite memory of my month in Bellefonte is a child-like sense of wonder on a day-to-day basis.”
Mandy Kendall is a web developer based in Pittsburgh.
She is no stranger to the PA Wilds, and has been debating a move for a while. “But I wondered if I was romanticizing it,” she said. “I wondered if living there was the same as visiting. This month gave me the opportunity to find out.”
“Bellefonte was amazing,” she said. “Of all of the PA Wilds destinations I’ve visited, I’d never made it to Happy Valley for some reason, and didn’t know what to expect. It was so charming and amazing and the people were super friendly.”
Her favorite part? “Everything isn’t an answer, is it?” she said with a laugh. “Big Springs Spirits and Titan Hollow were great. You have to sneak behind a painting to get into the Speakeasy at The Gamble Mill, and that’s very cool. After just a few weeks in town, people recognized me and would greet me when they saw me. And the fly fishing! I love to fish and being so close to Spring Creek was exciting.”
“Just that everything was so close,” she said. “Outdoor recreation feels close-ish in Pittsburgh, but I always feel like I need to wait for the weekend. Here, you can drive fifteen minutes and be at a state park.”
Now that Kendall is back home, she says that she’s actively looking into moving to Bellefonte or somewhere nearby. “It felt like home after only a month, it had such a great sense of community, and it fit a lot of my interests. One of my friends visited me in Bellefonte and said, ‘When are you moving here? This is your kind of place.’ Maybe within the next year.”
Patrick Crooks is a self-described ‘digital nomad’ and healthcare product manager based in Clarion, Pennsylvania.
He’d been following similar remote worker programs around the country, and was intrigued by the idea, but the timelines — often a year-long commitment — seemed too long. “When I came across this, I thought it was a really cool program to explore, and I knew a month would go by quickly.”
Crooks said that Bellefonte exceeded his expectations. “It felt like there was a lot of positive momentum, with Talleyrand Park and the waterfront. It’s such an asset. This town has a lot going for it! Plus, it’s really clean — I was really impressed with the state of the town.”
One of the favorite parts of his stay was the walkability of Bellefonte. “I walked everywhere — it reminded me of being in college. It was great seeing all the live music, walking to get a coffee, just hanging out in the park.”
“Being able to get into nature within ten minutes isn’t very achievable in most places, but while I was in Bellefonte, I could finish my work day and just a few minutes later I could be on a hike somewhere, and that’s super valuable in terms of lifestyle.”
Does Crooks see himself basing his nomad lifestyle in Bellefonte? “I could see myself living somewhere like Bellefonte,” he said. “It really all comes down to the housing market. Bellefonte is known for large, beautiful homes, and I’d be looking for a starter home, and sometimes those aren’t available on the market. But this is the type of town where I’d be interested in living. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of support for social events, and collaboration. It’s the type of place I’d like to invest in.”
Virginia Young is a consultant for a strategic communications firm, based in Pittsburgh.
She said that when she found out about The Wilds are Working, she felt like it was designed for her. “Fully remote work has been a fairly new experience, and this was the perfect opportunity for my family to try on a new location and see a difference in our work-life balance,” she said.
Young went into the month knowing that she would love it. “It’s been a difficult couple of years,” she said. “This was a great way to transport my family and my work — my life — into a new environment for a month.”
And when she got to Bellefonte … “It’s just the smallest and the cutest place,” she said. “There was no culture shock. I got to get up every day, get coffee from my favorite coffee shop, walk through paths with gardens and end up at the coworking space for the day. It was exactly what I needed it to be.”
Young says that she loved the coworking space at the end of her walking commute. “The people who would greet me as they walked past, Talleyrand Park, all of it — was too cute for reality.”
She added that her son, who is four, had a great time. “Being in Bellefonte gave him space to explore and lead the way,” she said. “He would find a quarter in my pocket and ask to go to the park to feed the ducks. It gave him so much ownership.”
She says that the outdoor recreation benefits of being in the PA Wilds were everywhere. “It infiltrated even the most mundane parts of my day. I have to be on my computer a lot, and it was easy to stretch my legs along the trail. Being that close to nature was very soothing.”
Will Young be moving to the PA Wilds? “I can see myself going back for long stays,” she said, adding that her job keeps her close to the city. “I can’t always unplug, but getting to do it like this is beautiful. I really recommend it.”
Jonathan Kohl is an archival producer for a documentary filmmaking company, based in Philadelphia.
Over the past few years, he and his wife Holly, an attorney, have explored the PA Wilds and made plans for weekend trips throughout the region. When he found out about The Wilds Are Working, he saw it as a perfect way to check off his bucket list adventures in one fell swoop.
“I’m a researcher, and amassing information is what I do. I had a massive spreadsheet of places I wanted to go, and it was a surreal experience to go from looking at photos to actually experiencing these destinations.”
Kohl says that he was shocked to be chosen and grateful for the chance to explore the region beyond his computer screen. “I put over 3,400 miles on my car during the month I spent in Bellefonte,” he said.
He says that the month exceeded all his carefully laid plans. “The beauty is remarkable. It was like an immersion in a national park — all of the state parks, forests, and outdoor recreation has a very cohesive feel to it.”
“One constant trip I took was up the Bucktail Scenic Byway, where I loved so many of the trails. I was really determined to sample as many public lands as I could. There is so much interconnection of recreation. My wife became a kayaker and we would just create our own adventure. It was like taking a PA Wilds compass and asking which direction we wanted to go on any given day.”
Kohl says that because of his work in film production and his wife’s work as an attorney, they are tied to big city life, but their month in Bellefonte gave them an aspiration of looking for a vacation house (with good wifi, he adds) somewhere in the PA Wilds. “We loved the ability to work at your own pace, and then clock out and go live your life.”
“I also want to add that everyone who created and ran The Wilds Are Working program was beyond hospitable and friendly,” he said. “It felt like everyone had such a big heart and had our aspirations in mind. To come from the fifth biggest city in the country to a place where everyone is so interested in you and wants to get to know you … was a very refreshing experience. It was one of the most generous experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”
About the Author:
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.
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