Panning highlights Iowa rock and mineral club's golden anniversary

Panning demonstrations to be held in Cedar Rapids on March 15 -16

Orlan Love
Published: March 14 2014 | 3:30 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:34 am in

Though they seldom strike true pay dirt, members of the Iowa chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America said they have fun trying.

“You’re not going to get rich off Iowa gold – it’s mostly specks and flakes. But panning for gold is a good way to spend time out in nature with friends,” said Linda Davies of Williamsburg, one of several Gold Prospectors members who will demonstrate their hobby this weekend at the annual meeting of the Cedar Valley Rocks and Minerals Society.

The gold panning demonstrations are consistent with the All that Glitters theme of the society’s 50th — or golden — anniversary, said society member Tom Whitlatch of Cedar Rapids, himself an occasional panner for the precious metal.

As with most Iowa gold panners, Whitlatch said he has never sold any of his findings, preferring to keep them as a mementos of his outings.

Society President Marvin Houg of Cedar Rapids said the show, one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest, also will feature many programs, displays and presentations highlighting fossils, minerals and gemstones.

Houg said show proceeds support the society’s education mission, which includes providing curriculum materials to the Cedar Rapids schools and scholarships for students at the University of Iowa and Cornell College. Among the displays, he said, are the fossilized remains of a tyrannosaurus Rex.

Houg, a 40-year club member whose interests include fossils, minerals, agates and geodes, said he has yet to pan for gold.

Prospectors are not likely to draw maps of their favorite areas. But almost any stream has the potential to pan out, said Paul Craff of Nora Springs, another Gold Prospectors member who will participate in this weekend’s demonstrations.

Craff said he has found gold in streams of water flowing through roadside culverts and in commercial sand piles.

“It may be little specks like glitter, but it is there,” he said.

Craff said most of the gold found in Iowa is known as “flour gold” because of its powder-like consistency.

Davies said club members are careful to leave streams in the same condition they find them.

Gold found in Iowa did not originate here, according to Robert McCay, a geologist with the Iowa Geological and Water Survey. Gold is usually formed by volcanic activity, which geologists believe has never occurred in Iowa.

But glaciers scraping across Canada, Minnesota and the Dakotas have carried gold-bearing deposits to the state, McKay said.

Unless the price of gold — around $1,600 an ounce — more than doubled, Iowa prospectors would be hard-pressed to justify their activity as a money-making endeavor, he said.

If you go

  • When: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
  • Where: Hawkeye Downs Expo Center, 4400 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
  • Website: www.cedarvalleyrock

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