POST FALLS, Idaho - With gold hovering above $650 an ounce, interest in panning and prospecting for the pricey precious metal in northern Idaho's icy streams and on its rugged mountainsides has enjoyed a mini-boom.
Still, many modern-day weekend gold prospectors in the region say they're not interested in selling what they find. Rather, the lure of adventure and a day in the woods is reward enough.
In an area whose mining glory days include hallowed names like the Sunshine Mine and Bunker Hill, small-scale gold miners say their pastime remains hard work that requires stamina and an appreciation for the outdoors - and the acceptance that the era of getting rich from gold nuggets that lie in the beds of the region's creeks is mostly over.
"There's a lot of interest in gold because of the price increase," said Bob Lowe, president of the Northwest Gold Prospectors Association, who also runs a prospecting supply business out of his home in Garwood. "But a lot of people do get discouraged early on. They're thinking they can pull up a couple of shovels of gravel and just find it."
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Lowe, who also owns a 35-acre prospecting park near Prichard, says the retirement of baby boomers - suckers for activities that harken back to the nostalgia of the Old West - is also driving interest in amateur gold prospecting.
On Web sites catering to prospecting, they can buy $4.95 gold pans - in two colors - hand sluices, and gold concentrators meant to help newfangled sourdough miners capture even the finest flakes.
Other Western states are seeing a similar spike in interest.
The Portland chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America in neighboring Oregon had just 25 members five years ago. Today, there are 200, ranging in age from 25 to 83, said Penny Parsons, a leader of the group from Clackamas, Ore., that encourages responsible small-scale mining.
"When the price of gold goes up, people see dollars," Parsons said. "It is very hard work. It's not any easy thing to mine for gold. It's still pick-and-shovel. You still have to dig the dirt and process it, irregardless of the modern equipment. They don't get wealthy from it, but they get to get out in the outdoors and the fresh air, and see the wildlife as it is."
Jared Hundrup, a Post Falls resident and accountant at a local outdoor-sports retailer, said he's collected enough gold on summer weekends to recover his $500 "grubstake" - the amount he advanced himself three years ago to buy startup equipment.
Hundrup hasn't yet sold any of his paydirt, preferring to keep his nuggets around for their conversational value.
"I didn't do it for supplementing my income; I did it for the fun of it," he said. "For me to go out and dig, it's kind of therapeutic." The Associated Press
Gold panning enthusiast Jared Hundrup displays gold flakes collected while searching along the bottom of Eagle Creek near Prichard, Idaho.