By DEAN RADFORD
There is gold in them thar hills and Brian Kushin will help you find it – with a pan or something more mechanical.
Kushin has opened Seattle Gold and Prospecting Co. in the Renton Highlands, filled with a full line of equipment designed to coax gold flakes or chunks from a creek or river.
Kushin has spent years panning for gold, so he has plenty of advice about how to do it right – and legally so you don’t end up on the wrong side of a shotgun or citation.
Panning for gold is tough work, many times disappointing and rarely a quick way to get rich. But it’s still the stuff of dreams and a chance to enjoy Mother Nature and the company of good friends and family.
“Getting the gold is a bonus,” said Kushin.
The continuing poor economy is driving some customers through Kushin’s doors. He hears the tales of a job loss and the need to make some money. Or, customers bring in gold and silver items to sell to Kushin to help pay the bills with the cash.
Kushin keeps little gold at his store, taking whatever he buys to a safe elsewhere. He keeps a piece of gold in a vial just so people can see what the precious metal looks like.
The first step in that golden quest is to get some training. Kushin offers prospecting classes at his store, along with a full range of pans of differing sizes. The big pans do the bulk of the sifting, while small pans are known as finishing pans.
He sells mechanical dredgers that suck up material from a river bottom and high-bankers, which use a sluice box at the side of a river.
Kushin sells bags of dirt gathered from a claim in Boise, Idaho. Each is guaranteed to contain gold; how much is the question. Buyers use the bags in class or at home to practice and, of course, get to keep whatever gold they find.
Next is where to look.
First, get a copy of the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Gold and Fish, which contains the rules for mineral prospecting and placer mining.
Kushin has heard there’s gold in the Cedar River but he’s never prospected the river.
Close by is the Raging River, which flows westward out of the Cascades, crossing under Highway 18 and Interstate 90 before dumping into the Snoqualmie River near Fall City.
Kushin and the state agencies which regulate gold mining and prospecting point to the Sultan area. The middle fork of the Snoqualmie is another possibility or head up to the Granite Falls area.
On the coast, there are placer deposits (gravel or sand which contain metals) near Ozette Lake on the Olympic Peninsula. There are numerous possibilities in Eastern Washington.
While all rivers have gold, geology plays a big role in what a prospector is going to find. On the west side, gold flakes will predominate, says Kushin; for the bigger chunks go to the rivers of Eastern Washington.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of gold over here,” he said, but it’s typically closer to the mountains.
Just don’t expect a river of gold, which is heavy and bounces and rolls along a river’s bottom. A river will yield good clues where to look, so learn to read geological maps. Gold drops out in bends or curves of a river.
Wherever you go, just be careful where you dip that pan or set up the mechanical dredge or high banker. Everything a gold seeker needs to know regarding areas that are open to prospecting and what equipment is allowed is contained in the state’s Gold and Fish book.
Public land, including state parks, is usually a safe bet for prospecting but not always, so check Gold and Fish first or claim guides that Kushin has available. Prospecting on private land or jumping someone else’s claim would get you into trouble.
“It’s always better to err on the side of caution,” he said. There are clubs that allow members to work an already-established claim.
Stricter regulations typically apply to mechanical methods to extract the gold.
Recreationists can file a claim, but it must be staked and worked, Kushin said. Kushin doesn’t yet have his own claim, but he hopes to some day. The idea would be to take his customers there in their quest for gold.
So is a rush to find gold a sure way to support a family in tough times?
Not in this region, Kushin said.
“You might be able to do OK,” he said, adding “I wouldn’t quit your job to go panning for gold.”