Prospectors hope new California gold rush will pan out

The recession and high gold prices are helping to fuel the latest craze, especially among workers who have lost jobs.

By
April 23, 2009 08:00
4 minute read.

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

There's still gold in California's Sierra Nevada foothills and a new rush to find it. Not since the Great Depression have so many hard-luck people been lured by prospecting, hoping to find their fortune tumbling down a mountain stream. The recession and high gold prices are helping to fuel the latest gold craze, especially among workers who have lost jobs. "I guess there's always hope. At home, I don't have any right now," said Steve Biorck, a concrete finisher who headed west because construction work dried up in Tennessee. Now he spends days standing knee-deep in an icy creek coaxing gold flakes from a swirling pan of gravel. Miners who locate an unclaimed area can pay a $170 fee to the Bureau of Land Management for access to the land. Most claims are along the 200 kilometers of steep granite outcrops and rushing riverbeds that are part of California's Mother Lode, a narrow band of gold-rich terrain. When Don Wetter was in the Army, he guarded Fort Knox in Kentucky, home of the US Treasury's gold depository. Now that he's been discharged, Wetter hopes to find some gold of his own using an anticipated loan for a "grubstake," an old mining term for money to sustain the search. Wetter, a 22-year-old tree trimmer from Troy, Michigan, said he wanted to turn to hunt for gold because most of his customers lost their jobs or moved away. Many would-be gold panners are drawn to the South Fork of the American River, where the 1849 discovery of nuggets at Sutter's Mill launched the largest human migration in the Western Hemisphere. The Depression brought another wave of miners in the 1930s. "It's hard to keep my equipment in stock," said Albert Fausel, the third-generation owner of the nearby Old Placerville Hardware store, which was founded to sell sluices, picks and pans to the original '49ers. Back then, the price of gold was $16 an ounce. Today it hovers around $1,000. The store's wood floors used to creak under the weight of recreational rafters and fisherman. Now prospectors are some of the biggest shoppers. "A lot of people are out of jobs and know where the gold holes are," Fausel said. Between October 2007 and September 2008, the Bureau of Land Management in California issued gold miners 3,413 permits, or claims, to search for gold on public land. That figure compared with 1,986 claims in 2006. So far this fiscal year, the agency has issued 1,444 claims. Many miners believe that only 10 percent of the gold in the Sierra Nevada was discovered in the original gold rush. They are also excited by the prospect of stumbling onto buried treasure. "A lady was walking over there, kicked a stone with her toe and picked up a nugget just like that," said Russ Kurz, who at 77 with a bushy white beard looks like a grizzled miner. He points to a sandbar on the American River near Coloma. "I was walking my dog once and went to pick up a rock and pulled a long nugget straight out of the sand," he said. "It was worth about $6,500 - and that was 13 years ago." Brent Shock of Jamestown now teaches the newbies he calls "the bonanza people." He says sandbars, cracks in bedrock and low-pressure eddies behind boulders are prime places to set up sluices, which are metal or plastic channels designed to catch gold. Spring is the best time to hunt for gold as snow melt churns streams and rivers, potentially uncovering new riches. "There's got to be a lot of it sitting around somewhere," said Eric Tring of Roseville as he panned with his 13-year-old daughter. The gold fields are becoming so popular that Todd Osborne has had to guard a claim that has been in his family since the 1960s near a remote mountain creek. A handmade sign with the image of a rifle and the words "private claim" dissuades most intruders, but novices often are unaware that miners can make a stake on public land. "A couple of years ago there'd be nobody out here," said Osborne, 41, who began prospecting full-time last year when his work as an arborist slowed. Osborne, who says both of his grandfathers turned to prospecting during the Depression, knows the people who sold supplies to miners are the ones who stayed rich. One of the most notable examples is denim maker Levi Strauss. Osborne owns the patent on the Bazooka Gold Trap sluice that he builds with his prospecting partner, Adam Schiffner. The two can process up to 350 gallons of streambed gravel a day with it, yielding $100 to $1,000 in gold flakes, with an average of $150. They are betting that the instability of the dollar will drive gold prices even higher and entice more people to his sluice. "Whether they get rich or not," Osborne said, "we've got part of their grubstake."

Related Content

The Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
April 30, 2015
Teva doubles down on Mylan, despite rejection

By GLOBES, NIV ELIS