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Larimer County Attempts to Ban Panning

DNR to add minerals to its ‘do not disturb' list

By: Sarah Reijonen, for the GPAA

Article reprinted courtesy of Gold Prospectors Association of America. Click HERE to view article at goldprospectors.org.

The Department of Natural Resources in Larimer County, Colorado proposed a ban on gold panning on DNR properties, claiming the department needed to sort out its mineral rights.

But, Colorado gold prospectors joined together and convinced Larimer County commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson that banning gold panning in county parks and open spaces was a bad idea. The third county commissioner, Lew Gaiter, was on vacation during the decision made Dec. 18.

Gold was first discovered in Colorado in 1859 and has been a state staple ever since, employing more than 5,000 people to this day, according to the Colorado Mining Association and a Denver Post article, “Larimer County may outlaw panning for gold on county property,” which was published Nov. 18.

At the December meeting with county commissioners, DNR representatives asked the county to add minerals to its do not disturb list, which currently restricts the removal, collection or destruction of vegetation, signs, fences and buildings.

News of the possible ban broke in mid-November in the Denver Post and began a stir among the Colorado mining community.

Rick Mattingly, Gold Prospectors Association of America member and coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Prospectors and Treasure Hunters in Loveland, Colo., said the proposal to ban panning or create a permitting process for the activity was “absolute lunacy” and had nothing to do with mineral rights.

In fact, news of the DNR’s proposal to stop gold panners in their tracks had Mattingly laughing at the absurdity of the ban, but it also had Mattingly and fellow prospectors from around the state up in arms.

“Quite frankly, I’m not gonna go out and pay for a permit to pan in Larimer County,” Mattingly said with a chuckle. “It’s ridiculous. I’d be better off to keep my permit fee — I’d be further ahead so all they’re doing is hurting the amateur recreationalist and families who are [panning].”

Mattingly said that even though visitors and residents of Larimer County might not find much gold, folks still like to give it a go, and they should have the right to pursue the shiny mineral.

“Not one of my family [members] that have come to visit from out of state didn’t want to come to the stream and pan for gold,” he said. “It’s a big thrill; they find some sparkly thing in the pan, mica, and think, ‘Oh, it’s gold!’ ”

While the amount of gold in Larimer County may be minimal, there is still a lot to be found throughout the state, which puts up a red flag for other prospectors in Colorado.

“It just frustrates me to no end — these bureaucrats and their crazy schemes,” Mattingly said. “Unsolicited, I’ve gotten phone calls from all across the state where people see this as the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent. And, they are just livid. They’re stirring up a big pot here.”

High Plains Prospectors GPAA Chapter President Johnny Walker, who lives in Westminster, Colo., made his presence known and helped put a stop to the proposed ban on panning.

“My phone and email have been quite active since this came out in the [Denver Post],” Walker said.

Walker said he suspects the proposed ban might have had something to do with the environmental extremists who have been creeping into the area.

“Colorado State University in Fort Collins trains veterinarians and has grown a very liberal political base due mostly to the school being a more reasonably priced education than Colorado University,” Walker said.

On a side note, Walker said approving the ban on panning would have been quite the hypocritical move based on recent actions carried out by the commissioners.

“The last action the commissioners approved was for a housing development. In simply digging the holes for the foundations of the houses and moving the material for curb-and-gutter streets, they will have moved many times more dirt and gravel than all the prospector clubs in Colorado combined would move in several years,” Walker said.

Dan Rieves, DNR visitor services manager for Larimer County said his department was attempting to right wrongs, not seize rights with the panning ban.

“We have to get a structure in place because we don’t have any right now,” he said. “And, we’ve got this situation where we’ve got this labyrinth of properties. Several of them have mineral rights issues on them and we’re just trying to buy a little time so we can kind of figure out which properties are conducive to the activity and which properties are not going to have any mineral rights problems.

“We don’t want people to get jammed up out there.”

According to a follow-up article published in the Denver Post, Johnson said that if the DNR in Larimer County wants to regulate mineral rights in the future, it should first form a committee and seek out the opinions of local prospectors.

Though Rieves said his department was not attempting to “ban” any prospecting activities, he encouraged prospectors to lay down their pans when the department first voiced its intentions in November. 

“I would hate for someone who has a claim filed that we don’t know about ... come forward and say there’s been some sort of defamation of their claim because someone else has been working it,” he said.

“It sounds crazy. It sounds like we would know if there’s a claim on property we own, but a lot of time we don’t know.” 

Rieves said this issue initially arose after an influx in prospectors along with frequent questions from DNR staff.

“The only reason it came up now is in the past 18 months we’ve see more people out panning and using sluices than in the last 15 years. Certainly there’s greater interest because gold prices are what they are. I know there’s some TV shows and other things that are making the knowledge base a little more accessible ... we were just getting a lot of calls,” Rieves said. “We have regulations in place for removing rocks and trees and artifacts and all these other things and we kind of have this loophole on the mineral issue — particularly small-scale gold mining and gold panning.”

Not only are minerals not mentioned in current regulations, but Rieves also said his department needs to do its homework and update its database on which lands they do and do not have mineral rights.

“Larimer County owns a few pieces of property where we ... don’t own mineral rights. We have a lot of other properties that we just manage on the behalf of other agencies. Even the ones we own, we don’t necessarily have mineral rights or the ability to greenlight activities such as panning or small claim mining,” he said.

The department hoped to fill in the mineral loophole by adding “minerals” to the non-removal list, Rieves said.

“Our rangers out in the field kept coming across these guys and didn’t have an answer to their questions and didn’t know what was allowed. Then those questions percolated up and we drafted a white paper and submitted that to the county attorney. The county attorney said, ‘Yeah, absolutely, we need to slow things down until we can draft this,’ ” he said. “Ideally, what I’d like to do is pick a few of the properties, spend the money, spend the time, do the research and kind of designate those as areas where people can go and pan and partake in the activity in an area where nobody’s gonna get in trouble, ourselves included.”

It was not just panning, but admittedly, dredging that sparked this idea from the DNR, Rieves said.

“You cannot just go out and freelance pan,” he said. “It wasn’t panning as much as it was the 20-foot-long sluice box with the gas powered water pump and all these types of things. Again, we just needed to put some regulations in place.”

But, Mattingly said the notion of creating a permit for any prospecting in the county and all the reasoning behind needing a permit is laughable and unwarranted.

“That would be totally ludicrous to go through the permit process to allow somebody to do something that isn’t there in the first place,” he said. “They’re ridiculous claims that they’re just seeing this giant uptick of all these prospectors out in the stream. It’s just total lunacy. This crap about the mineral rights is totally ridiculous.

“It’s not like the county has any other issues or problems to resolve, but they’ve got time for this ridiculous crap? Our county tax money being well spent, again.”

Although the DNR proposed restrictions on mining, Rieves said he is not against prospecting.

“I think there’s a room for gold panning for sure in Larimer County and certainly on the properties that are managed by our department. We’ve just got to find out where that’s at,” he said.

Mattingly and his fellow prospectors in and around Colorado knew that if this regulation had passed it would have been much bigger than Larimer County.

“It’s getting harder and harder [to prospect]. Most of us have been around a long time and remember the days when you could go anywhere,” Mattingly said. “But, my gosh, every time you turn around somebody’s fencing something off. They’re blocking everything off and creating new, stupid laws like this. It’s just getting to the point where you just can’t do it anymore. It’s just a cryin’ shame.”

Sarah Reijonen is a GPAA member and freelance writer based in California.

As featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette February/March 2013 edition

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