LEAP over the edge

Because so few potential students could afford tuition, the LEAP Camp at Earth Teach Forest Park has shut down its summer camp and will explore re-opening next year as a non-profit.

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 — Leadership Education Adventure People — offers outdoor camping, trekking, rope- and rock-climbing and tale-telling and bonding with fellow adventurers around the campfire, said Sadler.

Over 200 attend annually, with the most popular offering, a one-week program, costing $1,175, he said.

"We had a real spike in need requests, a majority of students for the first time ever," says 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, says 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 says. "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 non-profit status is a viable option and "the right step for us." Such a step might take a couple years or, if things come together well, it could be in place for next summer.

The program will be missed his 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 fundraiser benefit concert at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 20, at the Black Sheep in Ashland, with singer-songwriter Nathan Moore performing. The event, says 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. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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