rush sweeps across America
by Dominic Rushe
GOLD FEVER is
gripping America again with record numbers of
people taking to the hills and streams of
California and other states hoping to strike it
Membership of the Gold Prospectors of America
Association has risen 20% in the past year, said
general manager Ken Rucker.
The numbers of people registering claims for
mineral rights has also shot up. For the past
two years, mining claims in California, the most
gold-rich state, have grown by more than 3,000.
Another 1,173 claims were filed in the first
three months of 2009 alone, government figures
However, the public figures don’t tell the full
story because there are still parts of the US
where anyone can prospect for gold without a
Driven by the soaring price of gold, now
fetching more than $900 an ounce, and the
economic downturn, prospecting is booming in
Alaska, Arizona, Washington state and Mexico.
Would-be prospectors are flying in from all over
the world in the hope of finding their fortune.
“All sorts of people are doing it,” said Rucker.
“I’ve been out with five-year-old kids. One
member is 94 years old. We have doctors,
lawyers. We even had a guy from Nasa. He really
was a rocket scientist.”
Not everyone is happy about the new gold rush.
Some environmentalists argue that prospectors
are destroying rivers in their hunt for
Pans, shovels and picks have given way to
suction dredges as the preferred tool of the
prospector. They suck up the river bottom, sort
the gold out in a sluice and dump the leftover
gravel, sand, and silt back in the river.
Critics charge that suction dredging disrupts
fish spawning, muddies river water and can hurt
or kill aquatic organisms in the river bottom.
There are seasonal limits on prospecting in many
states and California is looking to tighten the
rules. Rucker claims that far from harming
rivers, prospecting can improve them by removing
harmful metals like lead and mercury and
breaking up river beds.
Mining companies account for the lion’s share of
gold found in America, and most weekend
prospectors cannot hope to earn a living.
Ron Larson, who works in the aerospace industry,
has been prospecting for more than 20 years.
Since 1999, when he staked his own claim in an
area outside Seattle, Larson reckons he has
found between six and eight ounces of gold.
“I wouldn’t make enough on my claim to pay my
bills,” he said. “There are people who do quite
well but a lot of people do it for the
Whether the sums are small or not, though, “gold
fever” is just as intoxicating as it was in the
original 1849 gold rush, he said. “I've lost
friends over gold, which is silly considering
how small the amount of gold usually is.
“Some people get a little carried away with the
‘fever’ and think they will get rich if they
drop everything and go into it full time, but
most never find enough to eke out a living.”