- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

DILLWYN, Va. — There’s gold in them there hills around Washington.

It’s not much, in some cases barely visible to the naked eye, but it’s enough to make dozens of prospectors spend their weekends panning for gold around abandoned mines.

The payback for spending hours sluicing through sand and mud in a creek is “the pleasure of finding it,” said Zane Nance, a member of the Central Virginia Gold Prospectors (CVGP), a club of amateur gold prospectors.

The 70-year-old retired National Park Service maintenance worker wears a watch inlaid with gold nuggets he has found during 20 years of prospecting. Like most of the club members, he estimates all the gold he has discovered is worth no more than a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Most of it came from “Booker’s Mine,” an abandoned gold mine on the Tongue Quarter Creek in Virginia’s Buckingham County. The 200-member CVGP leases 255 acres of the surrounding land from a mining company.

Other prospecting clubs are located in Maryland and Northern Virginia, where members try to find the precious metal along the Eastern Gold-Pyrite Belt.

The band of volcanic rock runs near the earth’s surface between Central Maryland and Central Virginia, roughly along U.S. Highway 15. Traces of gold break free from white quartz through erosion and wash into streams and rivers.

During an outing last weekend, a dozen members of the CVGP struck gold within minutes of arriving at Tongue Quarter Creek.

“I got one little piece,” said Jim Strong, a sheriff’s office dispatcher, as he looked down at his water sluice.

The water sluice is a pan with “riffles,” or ridges, that stick up from the center.

By placing the sluice in shallow water and shoveling dirt from the creek bottom into it, the rushing water washes away the loose dirt and leaves the heavier gold at the bottom next to the riffles.

“Already,” answers Ben Warner, the club’s environmentalist, who ensures club members obey environmental laws.

“If you look real close, right next to the riffle, you can see the yellow shining right here,” Mr. Strong says as he bends over the water sluice in his thigh-high rubber boots.

The flake of yellow metal was so small an untrained eye would miss it, but it was a gold find.

“This is better than antidepressants,” said Mr. Warner as he sat beside the creek among the pine trees.

Minutes later, the club’s president, Ben Vaughan, announces a find he made with his “hand sluice,” also known as a “gold sucker.”

As he pumped dirt and water into a tube with his hand, then dumped it into a pan and washed off the silt, a piece of metal that looked more like a nugget than a flake appeared.

“That’s a good one right there,” he said. “You don’t find that very often.”

He estimated the value at $50. Gold is selling for about $431 per ounce on international exchanges.

On most days, if a prospector is lucky, “You might get enough to get an ice cream cone,” Mr. Strong said.

In its heyday during the 1800s, Virginia was one of the nation’s biggest gold producers with more than 300 mines. A smaller number of them could be found in Maryland in Montgomery, Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Baltimore counties.

Booker’s Mine, named for the landowner when the mine opened in 1828, was Virginia’s fifth most-productive mine until it closed in 1937.

It also was one of the last to close as all the gold veins were mined out and the costs of production rose too high for commercial mining to continue along the Eastern Gold-Pyrite Belt.

Nevertheless, amateur miners, who describe themselves as having “the fever,” still invest varying amounts of money to search for gold.

“You can get started for $50,” said Mr. Warner, a telephone company service technician. “A shovel, a gold pan and a small sluice. Ninety percent of the people, that’s all they have invested.”

Fancier equipment includes a dredge, which starts at about $2,500, a hydraulic concentrator, which costs about $1,500, and a metal detector, which costs at least $1,250.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide