NOT A LEAP YEAR
Because so few students could afford tuition, the LEAP Camp at Earth Teach Forest Park has canceled its summer camp and will explore the possibility of reopening next year as a nonprofit.
The popular outdoor "edge-ucation" camp for ages 12 to 18 usually had about a third of its students asking for scholarships, but because of the down economy, that number jumped to three-fourths of students, said Josh Sadler, executive director of the camp.
Matching donations in the community could not be found for that amount of tuition, he said.
LEAP, or Leadership Education Adventure People, offers camping, trekking, tale-telling, rock climbing and bonding with fellow adventurers around the campfire, said Sadler.
More than 200 people attend annually, with the most popular offering being a one-week program that costs $1,175, he said.
"We had a real spike in need requests — a majority of students for the first time ever," said Sadler. "We've struggled for eight years to meet the need, but this summer there was no way we could move forward without risking people's money. It got so drastic so quickly."
LEAP partners with many local entities, including outdoor suppliers Rogue Rock Gym (which teaches climbing) and Southern Oregon University, where it teaches a class. The closing of LEAP will have a ripple effect on the area economy, said Sadler, who is laying off six seasonal employees and another six interns.
"We've hit an economic crossroads. We have to regroup and figure out a different strategy," he said. "We might have to extend our market to Eugene, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle. We've been incredibly fortunate to have the support of Earth Teach."
Sadler said the team has to explore whether nonprofit status is a viable option and "the right step for us." Such a change might take a couple years or, if things fall into place, as early as next year.
The program will be missed this summer.
"We work for them on the cliffs," said Joey Jannsen of Rogue Rock Gym. "It's a bummer for sure, although it doesn't affect us (financially) that much."
Tyler Sell, a former student and intern — and staff member last summer who was scheduled to do the same this summer — said the closure "is very upsetting to me, knowing how many kids are going to go without this wonderful opportunity, an experience that changed me in many positive ways."
The staff will have its fourth annual LEAP Camp benefit concert at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 20, at The Black Sheep Pub, 51 N. Main St., Ashland, with singer-songwriter Nathan Moore performing. The event, said Sadler, is an opportunity for staff, campers, parents and community to sing along with old campfire songs Moore has penned over the years.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.