Parker Spear, left, and Kyler Williams remove trash during Mount Ashland’s free summer camp, an annual event that helps clean up the ski area and gives the kids community service credits and discounts on lift tickets. “It gets them outdoors, they develop a work ethic and they learn about the environment,” said Brian Tekulve, program coordinator. “And they’re a huge help to us.” The camp, which runs through Aug. 4 in three sessions, is full this year. - Julia Moore

Sweating profusely for ski pass equity

Underneath a red hardhat, Maddie Hunkele bent over an unruly manzanita shrub and carefully trimmed it back from the Mount Ashland nature trail Wednesday.

"I feel like I have a summer job because I'm getting up early and working hard every day," the 12-year-old said.

But Maddie and her 11 co-workers aren't getting paid a cent for the hours of manual labor they're putting in on the mountain this week. Instead, they're learning about ecology, getting community service credit and a discount on a season ski pass next winter.

The 12- through 14-year-olds are doing manual labor on the mountain this week as part of the Mt. Ashland Ski & Snowboarding Resort's free summer camp. In return, the dozen kids enrolled in each of the three weeklong sessions, which run through Aug. 4, earn 20 hours of community service credit and discounted ski passes, lessons or three free lift tickets.

"It gets them outdoors, they develop a work ethic and they learn about the environment," said Brian Tekulve, program coordinator. "And they're a huge help to us."

The camp, which is in its 18th year, is full this summer, but will run again next year.

The teens and preteens in the Youth Summer Service Program work hard, beginning each day at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 4:15 p.m. On Wednesday, after being picked up in Ashland and Medford and shuttled up the mountain in a 15-passenger van, the kids immediately got to work.

They donned hardhats, gloves and sunglasses — which were slightly big for their still-growing frames — and dragged rocks to the edge of a trail to prevent mountain bikers from off-roading on the sensitive habitat. Then they rebuilt water bars across the Mount Ashland road to help prevent snowmelt from eroding the mountain slope. Next they filled a large trash bag full of tiny bits of rubbish left near the ski lodge.

"I'm out here sweating," said Devon Lancaster, 14, who had just scurried up and down a steep slope to pick up bits of plastic, bottle caps and broken snow markers that had slipped down the snow bank during the winter. "But it feels good to be helping out during my summer instead of sitting inside playing video games like a lot of kids."

Lancaster, who lives in Talent and attends The Siskiyou School, said he doesn't own any video games because he prefers to spend his time outside. But many of the other kids in the summer program are not accustomed to working in the woods, Tekulve said.

"I think it's been pretty hard," said Allie Buccino, 13, who lives in Ashland. "I like being outside, but it's more work because you're in the sun and it's hot."

After the trash pick-up, the students began pulling weeds, trimming brush and removing rocks from a mile-long stretch of trail.

"Don't run with the tools!" Tekulve yelled at two of the boys hustling up the trail. "I'll have a heart attack by the end of this," he joked.

Managing a work crew of 12 youths on the edge of a mountain isn't a cakewalk, but Tekulve said he does it for the reward of knowing that the kids have gained valuable outdoors skills by the end of their four-day camp.

"It's like herding cats, but they do end up working really hard and learning," he said. "We don't feel bad about giving them community service and discounts at the end, because they definitely deserve it. It's nice to see what they accomplish."

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Maddie, who lives in Ashland and attends St. Mary's School, said she was even beginning to enjoy wielding the 3-foot loppers on the manzanita exploding across the trail.

"It's hard in this heat," she said, "but I think I'm getting pretty good at this."

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-776-4459 or email

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