By BRAD JONES
GPAA Managing Editor
More than 300 people attended Oktoberfest ’15 and even more are expected to attend next year’s desert prospecting event, says Public Lands for the People President Walt Wegner.
“The event went well beyond expectations. It was better than last year and things ran a lot smoother,” Wegner said. “And, we have some ideas to make it even better for next year.”
After founding the outdoors event with the help of Sleepy Bear Mine owners Joe and Karen Martori and running the PLP fundraiser successfully for two years, Jim Jeffrey of American Prospector Treasure Seeker said he is relieved to see PLP pick up the torch and run with it in 2016.
Jeffrey credits his wife, Sue, and daughter, Kristie, for helping him organize and promote the popular gold prospecting event near Randsburg, Calif.
“It’s a lot of work for us three organizing the event and handling a small business,” he said.
Jeffrey also thanked the Martoris for hosting the event, the PLP, Gold Prospectors Association of America members and the many sponsors and volunteers.
“I think it’s a great idea for PLP to organize it next year,” he said. “It’s got some momentum. It would be crazy for them not to take it over.”
The Jeffreys wanted to pass the torch to PLP last year, but when the group’s founder, Jerry Hobbs, passed away
last December, they felt obligated to run Oktoberfest for one more year.
“With Jerry Hobbs passing away last year, we did it this year to honor him,” Jeffrey said. “We knew it was going to take a lot of effort and a lot of money, but we figured we owed that to Jerry. He fought for us for 25 years and so we felt that’s the least we could do.”
Jeffrey is hoping PLP, with the support of a united mining community, can grow Oktoberfest and make it even more successful next year.
“Hopefully, we can get some of the bigger boys involved and make it bigger and better, and just keep it going because without events like this it’s harder to survive,” he said. “It helps unite people.”
But as far as unity in the mining community, Jeffrey admits there is definitely room for improvement.
“Lately, I think we are losing a lot more than we are gaining,” he said. “If we don’t unite even more, we are never going to get very far down the road.
We all need to join forces, and maybe not become one, but work side-by-side
towards a common goal. We need to hold events like Oktoberfest to show that we can get along, and that we can unite.”
Jeffrey has long expressed the need to reach out beyond the prospecting and small-scale mining community to bring other outdoor user groups, such as hunters, anglers, off-roaders, bikers and
hikers to Oktoberfest which is open to the public to attend.
Wegner concurs that involving the public and the benefits of uniting other groups in the Oktoberfest is a winning concept.
“It’s different from other outings because we’re on a mining claim where people can actually go mine. It’s a commercial operation, so they can see the difference between a pick and shovel, drywasher or metal detector and know that there is a path to a commercial operation or a small mining operation, and they can see that it happens without destroying
the whole desert like we’ve been told,” Wegner said.
Furthermore, it shows people that miners are responsible for reclamation of the lands they mine, he said.
“Miners aren’t out there to destroy anything. Under the law, if you go in and mine anything, you’ve got to put the land back the way you found it. That’s part of the deal. You can’t just walk away.”
At the outing, participants were able to see the Sleepy Bear Mine operation and get a real-life look at what environmentally friendly modern mining is all about.
“And, on top of that, you can learn about minerals and mining. We are really there to keep public lands open for all user groups,” Wegner said.
Currently, under existing law, government agencies cannot legally shut down roads, trails and other access to a mining claim. That’s why Wegner is encouraging other outdoor user groups to back miners in their fight to keep access to public lands open for everybody.
PLP President Walt Wegner said funds raised at the four-day event, held Oct. 9 to 12, will go a long way to help in the fight for mining rights.
Some of the donations will go towards the legal defense of suction dredge miners who have been wrongfully cited for dredging illegally, including John Godfrey and Brandon Rinehart, he said.
“These people need legal expertise, and it costs money,” Wegner said.
Lynda Haskell, sister of the late and great PLP founder Jerry Hobbs, was presented with a 24” by 30” portrait of her brother created by Wegners’s daughter, Jody.
At the Saturday night bonfire, PLP presented several appreciation awards to American Prospector Treasure Seeker, GPAA, the ICMJ Mining Journal, Keene Engineering and Sleepy Bear Mine.
Wegner also thanked Jack and Geri Williams of Miners Keepers for their volunteer help.
“They worked the whole time. They are big supporters of PLP,” Wegner said.
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. He can be reached at email@example.com
• Website: www.PublicLandsForThePeople.org
• Phone: For more information about next year’s Oktoberfest event, call Public Lands for the People at (818) 887-5970.
(Article as featured in the December ’15/January ’16 edition of the Pick & Shovel Gazette. To subscribe, go to www.goldprospectors.org/join)