- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

LEYDEN, Mass. (AP) - A local man has scoured the county’s creeks for gold for decades - and hopes to teach the craft to others.

Kenneth Elliot, 78, says he picked up his first prospector’s pan after watching a program by the Gold Prospectors Association of America 20 years ago.

“They made it look easy, like you’d find gold every time,” he said. “So, I went out to the brook and took something that looked like a prospector’s pan - it was my dog dish!

“Once I found my first bit of gold, I was hooked.”

Hooked may be the perfect word for it.

Elliott’s doctors have told him time and again to give up the hobby, but he won’t.

“I’ve had 13 strokes and three bouts of lymphoma,” he said. “My family worries, but if I have a stroke while I’m out prospecting, that’s OK with me.”

He’s also had both his knee joints replaced and wears thick contractor’s kneepads to protect them.

He really gets into his work, wading up to his artificial knees and beyond to get at the “gold pockets” that collect in the stream’s eddies.

Naturally, he’s learned quite a bit since he got his start.

“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing back then, but I picked up a few tricks over the years.”

He’s started to pass those tricks of the trade on to others. Elliott offers two-hour prospecting tours, and for $40 you can get some hands-on experience, a prospector’s pan and other supplies to keep. You can also take home whatever gold you find on the tour.

Elliott has amassed a collection of prospecting tools since his dog-dish days, and sells some of the more basic supplies to others with gold rush fever.

His homemade “gold sucker” pumps up water, silt and rock, which he squirts through sieve-like “classifiers” that keep larger rocks out of his prospecting pan. Sometimes he’ll use a sluice - a box with riffles in the bottom - to trap heavy bits of gold while silt washes away.

His biggest find is a 17-pennyweight gold nugget, weighing nearly 1 troy ounce. He found it less than two miles from his house, in Couch Brook near the Bernardston-Leyden line. He said he once collected about a half-ounce of smaller gold flakes in one trip.

Finds like that, however, are a rarity.

Much of the gold Elliott finds is called “flour gold,” because it has the consistency of fine powder. He also finds grain-sized pieces and slightly larger chunks of the precious metal.

He also ends up with a good amount of iron-rich black sand in his pan, as well as bits of lead birdshot and the occasional shotgun slug.

“There’s gold in the streams in the area - not a heck of a lot of it, though,” Elliott said.

You don’t have to take Elliott’s word for it.

State Geologist Stephen Mabee said that, yes, there is gold in the hills of western Massachusetts, though he did offer a caveat.

“It is unlikely we would find any commercially viable prospects (in western Massachusetts) but certainly there is some to make it tantalizing for recreational prospecting,” Mabee said.

Mabee said erosion has released “placer gold” from rocks over the eons, and this collects in pockets at the bottoms of streams due to its high density.

So, you probably won’t find riches panning New England’s rivers and streams, but you may find a new pastime and a few flakes of gold.

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