Panning for gold - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Panning for gold

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These flakes are worth abuot $50. These flakes are worth abuot $50.
There's gold in those hills... There's gold in those hills...
Hank Carter Hank Carter
Wayne Mercer Wayne Mercer

Jeremy Brilliant/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - The price of gold has skyrocketed in recent weeks and months, and there's a gold rush going on right here in Indiana. 

Southern Indiana is known for its scenic views. But among the fresh blossoms and picturesque streams, Hoosiers are looking for nature's hidden treasure - just as they have been since 1850.

Prospectors like Hank Carter are panning for gold.

"I can take you down in Brown County and you let me pick the place and I can show you gold in every shovel full," Carter said.

He's prospected in every state.

"Anything you can pick up with your fingers, they're called pickers," he said.

For 35 years Carter has been collecting bits and pieces of precious metal in Brown County. He caught gold fever a long time ago.

"As a kid when I first started going to the movies and saw these old prospectors sitting out on a rock, in the wilderness, you know, the hat brim turned up, that's what I want to do!"

Every few months he and a few dozen friends descend on the Gatesville Country Store and head to nearby Salt Creek, where just about everything that glimmers is gold.

"People just do not believe that gold exists in Indiana," said Wayne Mercer, prospector.

Within a couple of hours Wayne Mercer showed us just how easy it was to find the heavy metal.

"That's all gold, all through the edge of that," he said, pointing to his findings.

Wanting to be sure it was real, we had jeweler Gary Thrapp analyze a specimen. He confirmed there's nothing foolish about it.

"It's testing 24 karat, 999 fine," Thrapp said.

If you're thinking this just may be the perfect way to strike it rich, you may want to think again. One small vial of gold flakes represents about 60 hours of panning from a river, and it's worth about  $50.

"We're not going to get rich doing this here. We do it for the enjoyment of being outdoors and we're in nature," said Mercer.

Besides the electric pumps and elaborate sifting machines, panning and the simple use of gravity is key.

"This is the exact same technique they would have used 150 years ago," Mercer said.

That's about when gold was first discovered in Indiana. A picture from the late 1800's shows prospectors in Brown County.

"If you know how to read the rocks, they tell you stories," said Dr. Nelson Schaffer, a geologist with the Indiana Geological Survey.

The story of Indiana gold starts in Canada about 2 million years ago, according to Schaffer. Glaciers pushed gold deposits south and pulverized the pieces along the way, which explains the tiny flakes discovered today and the fact they're pure.

"When the gold is first born or formed there's a whole mixture of elements and the banging and travel just sort of refines it," said Schaffer.

"Every chance I get I'm going to the creek to see a speck of gold," said Hank Carter.

Carter admits in all his years, he's probably only discovered about $4,000 worth - less than what it cost him to find it. But he's not in it for the money.

"I'm the first one that saw that and I've got it and I'll keep it and go for the next one," he said.

It's an obsession that is hard to break for Carter and Mercer.

"I think it rekindles some childlike appreciation for the world and the wonders that surround us," said Mercer.

When you're talking gold, there's always that chance.

"One lucky day we could be doing what we're doing right now and literally have thousands of dollars of gold."

But whatever the quantity, now you know there's more than just a pretty view in the hills of southern Indiana.

Related links:

Indiana Geological Survey

Gold Prospectors Association of America - Indiana chapter

Indiana recreational gold prospector

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