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Prospecting Fun in Cowlitz County - Modern-day Treasure Hunts Await!

Several rivers, creeks, located through-out Cowlitz County hold varying amounts of Gold, Platinum, and other minerals. While you may not strike it rich, there are many exciting areas to try your hand at gold panning.

Bob's Sporting Goods located in Longview, WA, carries a large assortment of basic prospecting equipment, supplies, and informational materials.

Gold Panning

Information Courtesy of Boom Towns and Relic Hunters of NE Washington

Gold Deposits
Gold occurs in two types of deposits: lode and placer (pronounced plasser). Lode deposits consist of ore minerals in veins or disseminated in rock. These deposits require blasting, milling, or leaching to recover the gold.

When a lode deposit weathers, gold and other minerals that resist weathering remain. Some of these minerals are called 'heavy minerals' because a given volume weighs more than the same volume of most other minerals. Many heavy minerals are black and make up what are commonly referred to as 'black sands'. When the weathered material is transported in a stream, heavy minerals (including gold) settle into crevices and any other depressions in the streambed and form placer deposits. Gold in the sand and gravel in the streambed can be recovered by panning.

Panning In Washington
The state's streams that contain placer gold are also important for the plant and animal communities they support. To protect stream and streamside habitats, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) administers the Hydraulics Code (RCW 75.20.100). This requires that any person or government agency desiring to use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of any river or stream, or utilize materials from stream beds shall obtain a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA). A formal HPA is not required for recreational panning and prospecting if you use a gold pan, mini-rocker box, or non-motorized, small sluice box. You must have a formal HPA for sluicing and dredging. Hydraulic Project Approval Applications may be obtained from Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Program at (360) 902-2534.

The DFW publishes a booklet "Gold and Fish" to provide details and definitions for use by recreational gold panners. Be sure to obtain and read a copy of "Gold and Fish", which you must carry with you whenever you are panning. The booklet also lists the classes of different streams and seasonal restrictions to certain activities on the various streams. If you have ant questions, contact the DFW.

It is important to know where in Washington you can go to find land that is 'open' for recreational panning. The map shows general areas in which gold placer deposits have been found. Not all of these localities are open for recreational panning.

Federal lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service (but not all federal lands) are open to panning (and prospecting). These federal agencies provide maps showing which lands they manage. Obtain a map from either of these agencies for the area where you plan to pan.

State-owned lands are not open for panning unless a placer mining contract for a specified parcel of land has been negotiated with the Department of Natural Resources. Privately owned land and patented or unpatented mining claims are considered private lands, and you must obtain the owner's/claim holder's permission to pan in advance.

If you have questions about land ownership, check with your Local County Assessor. Assessors maintain records of all land ownership in each county.

When doing more than recreational panning on public lands you should check with appropriate land management agency (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management). If an HPA is required, you should check with these federal land management agencies to file operation plans with them also.

How To Pan
The following simple instructions will help you get started with a gold pan, which you can purchase at your local hardware store, rock shop, or prospecting supplies store.
First, fill your pan nearly full of the sand and gravel. Remove the largest stones from the pan.
Place the pan under water and be sure that all the material gets wet. You may have to mix the contents of the pan with your hands.

Quickly move the pan from side to side, either under water or while it is full of water, and rotate the pan's contents (but don't spill the contents). This action gives the gold particles a chance to settle to the bottom.
While continuing the side to side motion, gently tip the pan away from you. Lighter material and larger pieces that come to the top will move to the front of the pan. These can be skimmed or scraped over the brim of the pan with your thumb or hand.

Continue the motion described in steps 3 and 4, allowing water to wash lighter material over the brim until only a small amount of material remains in the pan. You'll need to add water to the pan.
The remaining heavy material is the concentrate. If you haven't yet seen gold in your pan, pour out excess water until enough is left to barely cover the concentrate. Swirl the pan contents to 'string out' or 'feather' the concentrate. Lighter particles will be washed father than the heavier particles, leaving the gold (because it is the heaviest) in the 'tail' of the concentrate.

Continue swirling water in the pan to further clean the concentrates, being careful not to lose any gold. Recovering gold by panning takes practice!

Click Here for a Downloadable Copy of the Rules
This guide must be carried with you at all times when prospecting, even recreationally - you can request a copy be sent to you by calling Fish and Wildlife, 360.902.2534 - WDFW Headquarters

The 2009 Gold and Fish pamphlet replaces all previous editions and will remain valid until the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) publishes a new edition. The rules contained in it were developed to protect fish and their habitats. You may print out the Gold and Fish pamphlet from this website or request one from a WDFW office. There is no charge for the Gold and Fish pamphlet.

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