For the GPAA
In one day, nearly a dozen members of the Southwest Washington Gold Prospectors extracted more than 75 pounds of lead alone from the ground.
“This is the first time we’ve put the word out that this was our intent for the day,” said Randy Harper, past president of the local Gold Prospectors of America chapter. “It was just kind of a recon run to see how we could do this with a larger group to see what kind of tools we would need and what we would need next time.”
After pulling out all that lead and trash on March 19, the group hauled it to the GPAA Gold & Treasure Show two weekends later to show off their truckload of finds, which ranged from lead shot to brass and beer cans.
The cleanup site, about a 45-minute drive northeast of Vancouver, Wash., is also less than a mile from the GPAA
Direct 1 mining claim. The claim is shared by Oregon and Washington State Director and Southwest Washington Chapter Vice President Steve Lewin, who has another 100 acres of claimed land just down the hill.
Not only does this effort show that gold prospectors are not harming fish or the environment, but it demonstrates they take care of their natural surroundings. Prospectors are working to keep the outdoors clean and accessible for future generations, Lewin said.
In order to combat all the propaganda pushed by extreme environmentalists, Lewin wanted to do something positive for the environment.
“I thought, we could at least go up there and try to remove some lead out of the woods, because that lead gets into the plants and trees, and animals eat it. So, why don’t we go in there and see if we can start removing some of that stuff? Nobody else is gonna do it,” Lewin said.
Besides being a nuisance for prospectors, lead is harmful to the environment, and Lewin worries about what all that lead will do once it reaches the waters below.
“Eventually, it’s gonna work its way down into the watershed, and it’s not gonna be good for the fish,” Lewin said. “With the lead that I suck up from my dredging, you see that it’s turning white, and breaking down ... and all that stuff gets down in the rocks and the fish lay their eggs in there.”
The lead—primarily in the form of bullets—wasn’t just in the ground; it was also buried in the surrounding trees, which are often used for target practice. While there are shooting ranges in the area, Lewin said not all ranges allow shotguns or high-powered rifles and most charge a fee for daily or monthly use.
“I was playing surgeon, removing lead from a tree most of the day,” he said.
But primarily, the group used a highbanker to remove the lead, Lewin said.
“There was a big pond down there and we were using a highbanker. We were shoveling dirt around the trees where the bullets would be bouncing off, and we set up the highbanker with a couple buckets in front and a couple buckets in the back so we could catch as much lead as we could,” he said. “Every time we fired it up and ran a couple buckets, we had to shut everything off and clean the sluice box because it was full of lead.”
During the outing, Lewin and Harper checked on the GPAA claim and found two men shooting at the live trees and claim signs. They politely asked the men to stop, but to no avail.
“I actually confronted them when they were down at the claim and I asked them if they would not shoot at those live trees, but I wasn’t armed at the time. One he guy was kind of pushing me, so I just knew it was probably a good idea to get out of there with him drinking and shooting. That doesn’t mix too well,” Lewin said.
Later that day, Lewin witnessed the culprits crash and overturn their truck. Luckily, neither of the men was injured, but as Harper said, “they received an immediate dose of karma.”
While shooting on a claim can be done legally, there is a fine line between recreation and destruction; plus, shooting at claim signs can constitute property damage.
With the weather shifting from winter to spring, Harper said the 10 club members present at the cleanup were licking their chops at the idea of the upcoming prospecting season.
“People were itching to prospect because the sun was shining, but the water was still too high,” Harper said.
Now, if only the club could pull that much gold out of the ground in one sitting; nonetheless, the participants did learn a valuable lesson and get hands-on knowledge of how large quantities of gold would act in a pan or highbanker, as lead often imitates gold.
“It’s good to see how gold would act in the box, because gold and lead act a lot alike,” Harper said.
There will be plenty more opportunities for members to get an up-close look and get their feet wet in this specific stewardship activity, as Harper and Lewin are planning more cleanup outings.
“There’s probably 30-something sites on that county road up there that are like that, so it’s not like we’ll run out of places to clean up,” Harper said.
“Every time we drive on the road, we clean up all kinds of trash: mattresses and garbage. It’s never ending,” Lewin said. “When we go to the GPAA claims and my own claims, there’s always beer bottles, beer cans; people go camping and leave all their debris there and don’t care, and we clean it all up and remove it.”
Harper said he has been in communication with Washington Fish and Wildlife trying to coordinate to dispose of the waste once the cleanup projects are complete. He is also approaching local businesses about the potential of using their bins for dumping. In addition to disposal ideas, Lewin said they plan to get the news media involved in their next cleanup outing and also coordinate with state legislators.
“With me being a [GPAA] state director for Oregon and Washington, I try to get people to be active in something other than just prospecting,” Lewin said.
“I’m just trying to show we can do better. I think Americans have got to do a better job.”
Article as featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette June/July 2016 edition.