Michigan’s not likely to see anything quite like the California Gold rush in the 1800s, but it turns out, there is some gold to be found in Michigan streams. Current State talks with hobbyist Nick Straffon about panning for Michigan gold.
This weekend in upper Michigan, a group of people will scan the waters for glittering yellow dust. Panning for gold: it’s not just for 1849 California anymore. And there is actually some gold in Michigan, although not much.
Current State speaks with Nick Straffon, President of the Michigan chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America.
Where do we have gold in Michigan?
We’ve got it dispersed throughout most of the state. Wherever you find gravel, there’s a potential, there’s a chance to find gold.
Are there places that are off-limits?
Oh, yeah. The state has a lot of them. We are hobbyists, we are recreational prospectors and the most important thing to think about here is that we use handset equipment. We do not use backhoes, we do not use bulldozers, none of the big stuff. The biggest thing that I have is a de-handled shovel. We do have some restrictions that apply. Many of the rivers and the streams that we have here in the state we can't sluice. We can't use handset mechanical devices.
Have you ever discovered minerals you were not expecting to find?
Every now and then you find a little bit of silver. And you find a lot of very tiny sand size semi-precious stones like garnet. When you find gold, when you explore, you first look for the gravel like I said, then you look for black sand in the gravel as you are panning it. The black sand is iron – it's both hematite and magnetite – and if you run a magnet through it you will find about a third of it will be picked right up with a magnet. That's the magnetite. Then you'll find a few specks of gold. And what you look for is something that glows. You don't look for sparkling stuff. The sparkling stuff is usually the fool’s gold, pyrite or mica.
Are you ever tempted to do this outside of Michigan just so you would know what it's like to really discover a nugget of gold?
If you can learn how to prospect gold in Michigan and be successful at it, then you can find it anywhere. We’ve gone up to Alaska a few times, that's the furthest we've gone away. We've gone out to Colorado, Mexico, Arizona, and we’ve gone down to the southeast. The first gold rush in the United States was in North Carolina and there's still a little bit of gold in North Carolina and South Carolina, and northern Georgia and some in Alabama too. I haven't been to Alabama but I've been to the other places.
Tell us more about a typical outing
In the state of Michigan, even our equipment and how small it is, is very seriously regulated. For example, this weekend as we go to Lake Superior, we are going to have recirculating systems. These are systems where you dump water in a large pan or tub and then you put your equipment inside that. So you know our equipment is quite small. Then you have a bilge pump and you recirculate that water through your system as you're searching for gold.