The coolest place in Ashcroft right now is the Ashcroft and District Curling Club; not because of any tournaments or events or parties, but because of the temperature. The building would normally be closed up and left to the spring heat, but on a hot May morning it’s a pleasant surprise to step inside and find that it’s quite chilly. Even more surprising is the realization that the four sheets are still intact; but instead of curlers, they’re playing host to boxes full of evergreen seedlings.
It’s the second year of an initiative that the curling club hopes will boost their finances and enable them to keep going. “Two years ago we heard that curling clubs in Merritt and Princeton were storing seedlings, and we thought it would be nice for us to do it,” says the Ashcroft club’s Dwight Hodder. “Then Aspen Planers out of Merritt called in the fall of 2014, and asked if we’d be interested.”
The club played host to some 630,000 seedlings last year, and more than one million will be stored there this year. The first load of 200,000 came in last month, and most have already gone out again, planted in local areas such as Hat Creek, Venables Valley, Scottie Creek, and Deadman Valley.
Normally the building would be empty by mid-March and cleaned up by mid-April, but Aspen pays the Hydro costs to keep the building cool through early June, when the last of the seedlings come and go, says Barb Hodder. The curling club is also paid for the storage, and hopes to raise between $8,000 and $10,000 this year. Volunteers unload the boxes of seedlings, then go down several times a day to check the temperature and humidity, and ensure the seedlings are in good shape.
Stepping out onto the sheets sees the temperature go from somewhat chilly to downright cold. Boxes of seedlings sit on raised wooden platforms so they are not in contact with the ice, and are spaced so that there is good air flow around them. Barb notes, however, that the seedlings don’t stay very long after they’re delivered; they get planted as soon as possible. “Once it gets too dry outside, they can’t plant anymore.”
The curling club has been battling dwindling attendance for some time, and hopes that the seedling initiative will help them keep running. “The biggest struggle is getting people to come out,” says Dwight, noting that the club has shoes, sliders, and brooms available. Novices are welcome to drop by, as there is always someone to help them out.
“The seniors’ evening on Tuesdays is saving the club,” says Barb, adding that there are sticks for seniors, so no crouching or sliding is necessary. “The seniors really enjoy it, as there’s no worry about falling and slipping.”
She acknowledges that they need to attract younger players to the sport, and says that the club has someone who is taking on a juniors program at local schools this fall in an effort to get more young people out. In the meantime, however, there is no hurrying hard on the sheets; just boxes of seedlings enjoying the cool air, and waiting patiently for their moment in the southern interior sunshine.