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November 16, 2017

UMass student spends summer in Wyoming wilderness

Samantha Marino had an “amazing” experience over the summer in the wilderness of Wyoming. A management major at the University of Massachusetts, Marino left her hometown of Byfield, Mass., on May 15 to spend the next three and half months at Pahaska Tepee Resort, which is 50 miles from the nearest town.

Marino’s stepfather worked at Pahaska in the 1970s and told her about it when she was a senior in high school, thinking it was something she might enjoy.

She explained that national parks hire people seasonally, providing them with housing and food for a small portion of their paycheck.

“Not many people seem to know about it, but all national parks do it,” she said. “My stepdad told me it was an amazing place and experience, and it has been.”

Marino spent her summer working at a restaurant in the resort with 45 coworkers and no cell phone service or reliable Internet.

While many people may be nervous about approaching such a scenario, Marino thrived in the close-knit atmosphere of her colleagues, calling it “the closest thing to total wilderness that [she] will probably ever experience.” Living among buffalo, moose and bears, she learned enough about the wilderness to help her decide on some academic interests to pursue.

“I didn’t come out here with my studies in mind,” she said. “But I’m now more likely considering working in sustainability, or preservation or something to do with the outdoors.”

Marino explored the wilderness and went hiking in her free time, learning about Wyoming ecology and survival.
Marino also learned about the importance of the people she surrounds herself with.

“When you’re living with so few people in the middle of nowhere, your clothes, style, stereotype, history – none of it matters,” she said, just days before she left for Massachusetts. “The people here come from about 35 different states, backgrounds, lifestyles and ages. But none of that means anything because now we’re all in the same situation, living, working and spending every day – every meal – together.”

Marino became especially close with a 52-year-old woman named Linda, who went to Pahaska to escape the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

“We pretty much had nothing in common except our jobs at Pahaska,” Marino said. “She’s had a really wild but tough life.”

Marino said that Linda, who was in foster care until she left home at the young age of 14, had a lot to teach her about life.

“Linda was extremely fun and kind and great to talk to, but also showed me that I have so much potential and am very lucky for the life and opportunities that I’ve been given,” Marino said.

“I now see how wealthy we all are, here in Massachusetts and in New England in general, now that I’ve seen so many other places and met so many other people,” she added.

Marino also became close with two female college students from Texas and New York City who she plans on staying in touch with through Facebook. However, Marino said that Linda was the hardest person to say goodbye to.

“She… taught me to keep a smile on my face even when things aren’t going right,” Marino said.
Marino learned the importance of deep connections and plans to take that lesson back to UMass with her this semester, and then to Paris, where she plans on studying abroad in the spring.

“People are just people and we can become friends with anyone regardless of age, race, upbringing, beliefs – all that matters is how much care and respect you show them,” she said.

Since returning from Wyoming, Marino has found that she hates texting now even more than she did before.

“I’m almost never on my phone,” she said. “I also think I hate TV a little more now, although I haven’t tried watching any since May.”

Even though she enjoyed her summer in the wilderness, Marino does remember getting scared just before she left for Wyoming.

“I worried that I wouldn’t make any friends and that I was just going to be stuck out there not liking it,” she said.

Added Marino: “Fortunately, the people I was with were so free-spirited and friendly that I had no problem making great friends.”

Marino found that living and working in the wilderness reinforced the importance of the people around you.

“I hate to sound corny, but it honestly feels pretty natural breathing fresh air, experiencing the sun and the elements and getting exercise rather than sitting in a dark, closed space all day,” she said. “There are so many beautiful sites to see and it’s definitely an accomplishment getting to the top of a mountain and seeing that view – it’s also a thrill if you see an animal, like a bear, up close.”

Samara Abramson can be reached at sfabrams@umass.edu.

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