Art Students Learn from Hobbyist Prospector

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Ron Lunsford says he has “gold fever.” He is lured by the metal’s legacy, scarcity and visual beauty. “I just get excited when I see it.”

Specifically, this rush comes when he discovers it on his own, like a prospector from the 1800s, away from tourist-oriented sites such as Dahlonega where visitors can pay to access gold-panning-friendly locations.

While Dahlonega is historically famous for its gold, the metal can be found elsewhere — albeit in miniscule quantity — around Georgia and the Southeast. “You won’t find any nuggets,” he said. “It’s not easy, but with a lot of patience, dedication and know-how, it’s there to be found — in flakes of glacial gold that’s hundreds of thousands years old.”

Without revealing specific locations, Lunsford said a good place to look for gold is in front of, or behind, any obstacle in a water flow, such as large rocks or bedrock ledges that protrude at angles in a river, stream or creek.

“Around here, I’m finding about a half ounce every month, he said, referring to the past 2-3 years.”

RonA 16-year CSU plant operations employee, Lunsford presently is a maintenance mechanic for the university’s RiverPark campus, also home to the Department of Art where Assistant Professor Trish Ramsay recently completed the May-session “Introduction to Metals” studio arts course.

For one class session, she invited Lunsford to share his expertise about the history and practice of prospecting for gold in Georgia. “(The students) responded very enthusiastically,” she said.

Lunsford demonstrated some basics and tools of the hobby, including a gold detector and sifting pan. To demonstrate “gold-panning,” Lunsford used a “paydirt bag” — sold by mining-tourism businesses in Dahlonega as a bag of mining-site earth, mixed with gold flakes and ideal for practice panning. “Ron demonstrated the technique and students spent the class learning how to sift and recognize the layers of material (rock or pebbles, white sand, black sand) preceding the gold, which is heaviest and sticks to the bottom of the pan,” recounted Ramsay. “Each student found a few tiny pieces of gold. We also found fool’s gold (pyrite), mica and semi-precious minerals such as garnet.”

Lunsford also lectured on Georgia’s rich history related to gold. The 15 students learned that gold was a driving force in the colonization of America and the primary reason for Hernando De Soto to visit north Georgia in the early 1540s. Indians had routinely panned for and found significant amounts of gold along the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta. As the Cherokee controlled most of the land in the gold region, the Georgia Legislature began their removal around 1828, leading to the “Trail of Tears.” Dahlonega subsequently was established and named from the Cherokee word talonega, meaning golden.

Today, Lunsford looks forward to advancing his hobby with more intensive regional prospecting and through a prospecting adventure in Alaska within the next few years.

To this point, he keeps his locally discovered gold, along with small amounts collected from Dahlonega, for financial investment.

However, he used about a half-ounce for a special project carried out by Ramsay’s students, who melted it down and reshaped it as a heart “as a gift for my wife.”