A wealth of people hunting for gold in Snohomish County

Gold panning always attracts people with a sense of adventure, combing through the foothills and mountains of Snohomish County.

It’s even more attractive now that gold prices hover above $900 an ounce.

The Boeing Employee Prospecting Society doubled its membership from 25 to 50 within the past year, said Mike Dunican, the group’s treasurer.

“It was kind of anticipated, as the gold price went up,” Dunican said.

The Washington Prospectors Mining Association also has increased its size from 456 members to 496 between March 2007 and March 2008, said Chuck Cox, a member of the Seattle-based group.

“It has to do exactly with the price of gold,” Cox said. “What’s interesting is that nobody is going to get out and get rich.”

The statewide group has three claims in California, eight in Oregon and 23 in Washington including spots along the Sultan River, Cox said. Most people prospect for gold not because it makes them rich, but because they enjoy the time spent in the outdoors and exercising.

In Washington, prospectors who pan for gold can enjoy their hobby only between July and September because of environmental regulations designed to protect migrating fish, Cox said.

“We make it abundantly clear this is not your way to get rich,” Cox said.

Mining for gold is part of Snohomish County’s roots.

People started mining gold in the 1870s along a creek that drains into the North Fork Skykomish River north of Index, said David Cameron, a local historian and former teacher. When miners discovered gold and silver in Monte Cristo, east of Granite Falls in the late 1890s, many prospectors started moving to Snohomish County.

European immigrants toiled in the mines at Monte Cristo. And Chinese immigrants explored sites along the Sultan River in search of gold nuggets, Cameron said.

Gold mining waxed and waned in the early 20th century, Cameron said. It saw a revived interest during the Great Depression, and gold price increases in the 1980s increased the number of prospectors.

Today, there is little gold to be found to feed dreams of prospecting.

“It’s not realistic to think you are going to get rich,” Cameron said. “But if you know what you are doing and are at the right location, you can make some money.”

The town of Gold Bar got its name from the railroad workers who panned for gold on a gravel bar of the Skykomish River in the 1880s, City Councilman Joe Beavers said.

Gold Bar, a town of about 2,000 people, used to have a festival called “Gold Nugget Day,” Beavers said. Last year, he helped to start a similar community festival, titled “Gold Dust Days Heritage Festival.”

“I don’t think there are any nuggets here,” Beavers said.

The event that drew about 2,000 people last year is scheduled for July 25 to 27 this year, he said. The festival could benefit from a membership increase of the Washington Prospectors Mining Association, which has a booth at the event.

David Eason of Marysville has been with the group since 1992. Eason said he’s looking forward to July when he gets to indulge in gold mining. Eason said that sometimes he and his friend can find gold worth $50 along the Sultan River.

“That’s for a good day,” Eason said. “Some days, you get a lot less.”

The prospectors association has been around since 1980, Cox said. There is mystique in gold panning that hooks people.

“Under the next rock you move, you never know,” he said.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

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