- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Jacob and Joseph Morrison don’t like to miss the reality show Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.

“Gold digging is just really interesting,” said Joseph, 11, of Akron. “It’s fun to watch their reactions when they find something.”

Last weekend, during the annual Gold Rush Days, he and his 15-year-old brother got a chance - albeit on a much smaller scale - to feel the emotion of coming across a gold speck while panning.

The free annual event, which drew 1,500 people, takes place on the banks of the Clear Fork of the Mohican River between Bellville and Butler - about 65 miles northeast of Columbus.

From filling 5-gallon buckets with dirt from the river and running the material through a 10-foot sluice (a contraption that separates sediment from water and larger rocks) to panning the remaining material (the concentrate), the Morrison brothers joined several relatives in sampling every aspect of the gold-prospecting process.

“It’s a modern-day version of what they used to do during the gold rush,” said Glenn Snider, president of the Ohio Buckeye chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, the host of the event.

The two-day gathering included several common digs, where groups work together to dredge the river and share the spoils.

Gold Rush Days also featured panning competitions, metal-detecting hunts and vendor demonstrations.

In its 16th year, the event offers a publicity tool for introducing interested newcomers, such as the Morrison boys, to the hobby and an opportunity for allowing veteran prospectors to try new equipment, swap trade secrets and - of course - pursue gold.

Tents and campers lined the riverbank during the weekend, with some having made the trip from as far as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Maine.

(The land leased by the association for recreational prospecting - called the Swank West Claim - is usually reserved for member use only; Gold Rush Days, though, open it to the public.)

One camper boasted a sign that read “Prospector parking only.” A dredge - a vacuum-like tool used for collecting material from the river - was placed in front of it, with a “For sale” sign attached.

A few fires burned Aug. 31, despite the rainy weather. Dogs ran off their leashes. Children not digging still got drenched while playing in the slow-moving river.

Although the area rarely yields gold pieces larger than pepper flakes, it is considered rich in the metal carried by glaciers at least tens of thousands of years ago, said Troy Johnson, a railroad machinist and a founding member of the Ohio Buckeye chapter.

“In my early days, I found enough gold in Ohio to pay for half a four-wheeler - about $1,700,” said Johnson, 50, of the Sandusky County town of Clyde.

That’s a lot of specks.

Yet most of the people who attended the event - as well as the 350 members of the chapter - went not to strike it rich but simply to enjoy the thrill of the treasure hunt and the camaraderie.

“The gold you find isn’t in your hand,” said Snider, 67, of Mansfield. “It’s the people and sharing a common interest.”

Still, he couldn’t help showing off a small box of booty from his six years of prospecting.

Almost every person encountered on the claim also had vials of gold - some from Ohio, some not - and stories of favorite hauls to share.

Bev Armbrust and her husband, Ted Polk, were impressed by what they discovered last year at Gold Rush Days, so they returned this year.

“I think just about every pan that comes out of here has gold,” said Armbrust, a Wadsworth resident who enjoys the suspense of gold hunting.

“Even if it’s just a sprinkle, it’s better than nothing.”

When visiting the Clear Fork for the first time about a year ago, Jesse Mendez found several pieces of gold - and was hooked.

“We’re envious of Alaska and the people who find big chunks,” said Mendez, 64, of Toledo, “but one guy, he told me he’s envious of us because we find 15 pieces every time.”

Mendez took along his wife, Ruby, for her first hunt.

The hobby, Snider said, appeals to anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Mike Chill, a gold digger only since May, picked up some pointers during the weekend.

“They told me, ‘Dig at your own pace and don’t try to go all out,’??” said Chill, 47, of Huron.

The work is tiring, he said, but also rewarding.

“I couldn’t believe there was gold in Ohio,” he said while pouring a bucket of dirt into a machine to be washed.

“You always think of gold in California, Arizona, Colorado, Alaska - but not Ohio.”

The Morrison boys made their way to the panning station with a 3-ounce bag of concentrate - what everyone on their common dig received - to see what their dig yielded.

Each left with a few flakes of gold.

One lucky digger, 41-year-old Aaron Earls of Ashland, didn’t even have to pan to get “rich.”

He won a small gold “picker” - a nugget about the size of a small, flat pebble - in one of several raffles conducted throughout the weekend.

Bill Morrison, the father of Jacob and Joseph, initially viewed the event as “cheesy,” but by the time he had a few flakes of gold in his vial - along with a picker the size of two grains of rice, given to him by a veteran digger - he was entertaining the idea of another treasure hunt.

He had his sights set on looking near his father-in-law’s house in the Athens area.

“I bought a pan,” he said with a laugh. “I’m going to tear up the neighbor’s lawn.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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