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Will Canadian educational beacon go dark?

A unique adventure tourism site in New Brunswick is run entirely by students. But its founder is retiring.

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That's exactly what they did, though the path was far from easy. The red tape was considerable – the government was loath to reverse its demolition plan – and the Tates had to front more than $50,000 just to get the project off the ground. They've invested untold (and unpaid) hours painting, scraping, building, cleaning, training, and grant writing.

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"We saved and maintained the structures, which is what the public probably focuses on," Tate says. "For Ann and me, the focus was really the students, and training them how to run a business or an organization, to develop a work ethic, and to learn to work with people."

Teaching, he says, is something he can't escape, even eight years after retiring from Harrison Trimble High School. "When I wasn't working with students, I was one."

Ms. MacFarlane says most students embrace the challenge and the unusual environment at Cape Enrage, where they live for six days at a stretch. "We're an hour from any kind of town, we don't have access to television, and for a long time there wasn't even an Internet connection, so we had to go back to basics," she says. "It's a tumultuous time, growing up, and being there gives us the space to be kids again."

It's also become a major draw for remote Albert County, where many rely on summer tourism to make it through the year. "The rest of us in the industry have seen a positive impact because of what Dennison and Ann have done at the Cape," says hotel operator Kathy Weir, president of the local tourism association. "It's very important to all of us that the site and the adventure tourism are open next year."

But that's far from certain, because the Tates are retiring and the province (which owns most of the property) is unwilling to run the student-driven activities itself. While the grounds will be open next year, nobody has been found to take over from the Tates.

It's not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to fall into crisis when their visionary founders retire, according to John Palmer Smith, director of the Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Money can dry up as donors lose confidence, while projects suffer from the loss of institutional memory.

"You can't rely on the visionary leadership so heavily that the organization is in danger of not surviving the transition," Mr. Smith says, adding that the board and the leader must plan well in advance for the latter's eventual departure. "Everybody needs to understand that these organizations serve a larger public purpose and not all of their eggs should be placed in one basket."

But the Tates say they're hopeful that somebody will step forward to carry on their vision "We don't want to take it with us, but we don't have anyone to leave it with just yet," Mr. Tate says.