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Gold fever contagious at prospectors' show

In this April 7, 2012 photo, Bill Peabody shows novices how to separate gold from black sand suing water and a gold pan during the gold prospectors show in North Bend, Ore.  Peabody has been prospecting as a hobby for 30 years. He started combing the grou
In this April 7, 2012 photo, Bill Peabody shows novices how to separate gold from black sand suing water and a gold pan during the gold prospectors show in North Bend, Ore. Peabody has been prospecting as a hobby for 30 years. He started combing the ground for fossils in the Midwest. While he's never struck it rich, the idea keeps him going. "Maybe if I roll one more rock it'll be gold," he said.
The World, Benjamin Brayfield) MAGS OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press

NORTH BEND, Ore. — Panning for gold takes patience, keen eyes and steady hands.

Without training, novice gold-seekers will find it unproductive. So, the hands-on gold-panning display at the North Bend Prospectors' first South Coast Outdoor Adventure Show last weekend at the North Bend Community Center was popular.

"Through here there's been a steady stream," said Milo Summerville, a ten-year member of North Bend Prospectors. Periodically there was a line out the door, he said.

Although the club has existed for decades, this is the first year members put on a local show. Usually they raise funds by going on the road with other gold prospecting groups. But this year, gas prices were too high, said Bob Baldwin, president of North Bend Prospectors, Inc. So they're hoping to start a tradition.

"Our purpose here mostly is to inform the public what we're about," said Summerville, who started gold panning 35 years ago. "It doesn't hurt the environment like most people think it does."

In Oregon rivers and streams, gold occurs as small flakes that are mixed with sand and sediment. To remove the gold, prospectors slowly and methodically shake out the lighter materials and wash them away, leaving behind the gold flecks. It is not easy.

At the panning display, club members supervised a large tub of water with sand and sediment at the bottom. Visitors could practice using a pan to remove and clear the lighter dirt and debris, leaving the heavier dark sand and gold at the base of the pan.

Hundreds came through to learn the art. Children were drawn to the dirt and water. They generally lacked coordination and patience, but still splashed the pan of sand in the water, trying to mimic the adults' movements.

Baldwin said gold panning is a fun family activity.

When Baldwin joined the prospectors ten years ago there were 40 members. Now there are more than 200.

'The price of gold is going up and the baby boomers need something to do," he said. The price of gold is currently more than $1,600 an ounce.

But enthusiasts caution that it's nearly impossible to make much money from gold panning. For experienced prospectors, who can invest a lot of time, gold panning could provide supplemental income. But most in the group consider it a hobby, Summerville said.

Club members can access any of the group's six area gold claims. Members are also welcome on the group's monthly gold panning outings. Membership is $20 per person, $30 per family. Children are welcome to join, Baldwin said.

North Bend Prospectors members hope this year's show begins an annual local event that will help promote other area businesses. Baldwin invited other adventure and nature clubs and organizations to set up booths at the show.

With booth fees, the $2 entry fee and raffle tickets, Baldwin estimates, the club grossed $4,700 on the weekend. The group spent between $3,500 and $4,000 putting the show on.

"I've been told if you break even the first year, you are doing good," Baldwin said. He said the group will begin planning next year's show immediately.

Information from: The World, http://www.theworldlink.com