There aren’t many times when people open their wallets to pay for a pan of dirt and the chance to sink their hands into troughs of murky water, but the first weekend closest to April 1 is one.
That’s when Reed Gold Mine’s Panning Palooza takes place – an annual event that signals the beginning of panning season at the former working gold mine turned historical site in Midland.
Panning season runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays April 1 to Oct. 31. For $3, those hoping to strike it rich can buy a shovel’s worth of dirt and try their luck in finding a golden flicker shimmering among the silt and gravel.
It’s also a chance to check out many of the free offerings at the mine available year-round. Visitors can tour the site’s exhibits and underground mine tunnels, watch the stamp mill –where rock was crushed to extract gold – in action, and walk the many nature trails on the property.
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Each year, between 45,000 and 50,000 people from all over the world visit Reed Gold Mine.
“I would buy a lot of candy,” said Isabela Fernandez, 11, as she inspected the contents of her pan, giving each grain of dirt the once-over, much like a drill sergeant would a soldier in formation.
Isabela and her family, from Miami, came to the region to visit relatives during spring break.
“We saw this as one of the ‘things to do in Charlotte,’” said Isabela’s mother, Mary Fernandez.
Further down the trough, tourists from Germany and Pittsburgh shake their pans, all hoping to take home a clear vial filled with water and a glittery floating fleck.
The site hasn’t surrendered any substantial amount of gold in decades. The last find by a visitor occurred in the 1980s, and came to about a half-ounce, which today would be valued close to $600.
These days, it’s more common to find flecks and flakes rather than nuggets.
“Generally, we’ll say it’s enough to say you found it,” said site manager Larry Neal. “It’s more for historical interpretation. You get to experience exactly what miners were doing 200 years ago, with the same basic equipment they were using.”
Those from around these parts know the story of the first gold nugget found in the vicinity. The 17-pounder, discovered in a creek by a 12-year-old boy in 1799, was the first documented gold find in the United States.
It’s a fact that hasn’t circulated as much as the gold is dug up in the mine. “Most people are familiar with California and that strike, but North Carolina beat California by 50 years in finding gold,” said Neal.
Four years later, a 28-pound nugget was found at the Reed mine. That nugget holds the record for the largest found east of the Mississippi River.
That’s not to say the mine doesn’t still have a few nuggets hidden away. The last large nugget was found in 1896, nearly 100 years after the first big find.
A new century could yield another big discovery.
“We’re the gold region of North Carolina, and we tell people they’ve never found it all,” said Neal.
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Reed Gold Mine is at 9621 Reed Mine Road in Midland; the visitor center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission: free.
Panning (available April 1-Oct. 31) is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, weather permitting. Panning cost: $3 per pan of dirt; $2 per pan for school, community, adult groups (call ahead to schedule).
Details: 704-721-4653; www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/reed.htm.