After weathering a season that had to be cut short due to last summer’s wildfires, centre coordinator Valleri Parkes and her crew are eager to be back volunteering at the Ashcroft Visitor Centre again this season.
There are currently enough volunteers to have the centre open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to noon and then 1 to 3 p.m. on weekends, starting on June 2 and running through September 2. “We used to be able to be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, but we have fewer volunteers,” says Parks. “We’re looking for more volunteers who can greet visitors to Ashcroft, and provide information and directions.”
The visitor centre volunteers give directions to local restaurants, and places such as the museum and the Chinese cemetery. They also find themselves talking to people who are considering moving to Ashcroft, and will direct them to local realtors. “It’s whatever people want to know.”
The centre was moved to its current location near the Heritage Park in 2015, and first opened there for the 2016 season. Parks says the new location was an immediate hit, with one main reason frequently cited.
“The washrooms! People who come here know about them, and say they’re the best anywhere. We get a lot of comments about their cleanliness. And the staff really appreciate them.”
Parks says that the centre opened as usual in June 2017, and things were pretty normal at first. “It looked as if things were picking up, but as soon as the fire hit it just died. The smoke kept people at bay. We had some people coming to get information about the fire, and we tried to keep the centre going, but couldn’t.
“A couple of staff had health issues, and we left it to the individual volunteers as to how they felt [about working]. I tried going down on good days, but the smoke would get worse through the day, and the door opening and closing didn’t help.
“A couple of people wanted to keep it going, but the further into July it got the worse it got. And the roads were blocked, so no one could get to us. We kept going through July, then threw in the towel at the beginning of August.”
Parks says that while many of the people they see at the centre are passing through Ashcroft, a lot of people make Ashcroft their destination.
“They think it’s a lovely spot. A lot of people know about the Chinese cemetery, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to point people towards the mosaics. It’s nice to have the brochures [with a walking tour of some of Ashcroft’s mosaics].”
She adds that the volunteers meet people from all over the world. “If they don’t speak the language then you have to get creative,” she says with a laugh. “You find ways to get the information across.”
She says there are no special requirements for volunteers other than that they be friendly, and something of a people-person. “Every day is a learning experience, and sometimes I learn things from visitors. I pass the bird boxes between Ashcroft and Logan Lake all the time, and had seen them, but someone came into the centre and told me what they were. And we get lots of train people coming here.”
Parks says she is already gearing up for the season, bringing everything out from winter to see what they have and what they need to order. “We get lots of cooperation from the Village.” The centre also needs to be cleaned, to get it ready for June 2.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering as little as two hours a week at the Ashcroft Visitor Centre can call Parks at (250) 453-9206 for more information.