You can strike it rich with Greenbush Prospectors
By Ann Grote-Pirrung
On the second Saturday of every month, there's a rush of activity in the quiet town of Greenbush as gold prospectors from around the central and southeastern part of Wisconsin converge to share secrets, brag about strikes and rub elbows with fellow panners.
Yep, folks, there's gold in them thar' Kettle hills — or more specifically in the glacial streams that flow through the area, and members of the Greenbush Prospectors, the local chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, love nothing more than to work the area's chilly waters for flecks of the precious metal.
According to local chapter president Ron Smith of rural Plymouth, since he formed the group last May, close to 30 men and women have answered the call of the gold and joined the Greenbush Prospectors.
While Wisconsin might not seem to be prospectors' heaven, Smith assures that there's gold to be found.
Smith caught gold fever early in his youth, having grown up in northern California, a more traditional haven for prospecting.
"As a boy, all the boys in that area had an interest in it because it's part of the local culture. I just kept that interest on the back burner, and with a few other interested people, it just perpetuated and we're getting very good attendance. We've been gaining (members) at about 10 percent a month," Smith said. Information about the group is published in the GPAA's national magazine.
Gold prospectors from as far away as New London, Oshkosh, Port Washington and Milwaukee have discovered the Greenbush Prospectors. Tomah and Rice Lake have the other two Wisconsin chapters.
So where does one go around here to strike it rich?
"Most anywhere where the glaciers went through there will be some amount of gold," Smith said. "Where you have water moving fast through a glacial area there will be more of a concentration of it."
Before you outfit yourself out with a pan and golden dreams, be aware that the gold in this area comes in flakes versus chunks. "If I were to go and work a day in an area where there's gold, I'd find a few small flakes," Smith said.
However, those few small flakes brighten a prospector's day.
"It's the same thing as if you shoot a 10-point buck or catch an 8-pound bass, Smith said. "A person can spend a lot of money pursuing those other sports, but it's not in gaining the wealth or riches; it's finding the treasure or getting the trophy. It's the pursuit of it."
Sometimes that pursuit produces other treasures as well. Smith said he's also found other semi-precious metals.
Wanda Buckland-Riel of Greenfield also has found some interesting things in the bottom of her pan.
"At first I was skeptical because I didn't think there was any gold here in Wisconsin," said Buckland-Riel, who got her first taste for gold in Colorado. "But I had heard there were other minerals around here. I knew there was silver up north. I've never found silver, but I have seen other things at the bottom of my prospector's pan that have caught my eye. I've seen strawberry pink quartz, bits and pieces of red jasper, definitely a lot of clear and smoky quartz and lots of other things that I wanted to put aside to check out in my mineral book.
"It's a lot of work," she said. "You sit there in icy cold streams. You really have to be serious about going after pay dirt."
Members often enjoy metal detecting and rock hounding as well as panning, like Ruthann and Ed Bornemann of Appleton. "Ed metal detects and we go panning and we've gone out West to pan also. It's just awesome. The people that you meet are the best," said Ruth Bornemann.
At a typical Greenbush Prospector's meeting, members share prospecting experiences and speakers may be brought in. Information about rocks in general is also shared and gold-panning outings around the state are planned.
"We find gold together and mostly have a lot of fun together," Smith said.
Ed Bornemann said it's a hobby that the whole family can enjoy. "Last year we took our 12-year-old granddaughter to North Carolina. She was in a creek up to her knees in water gold panning and on the way home she said it was the best vacation she ever had."
Bornemann has panned all over the country including Michigan, California, Arizona and western Wisconsin. His biggest find graces his wife's neck — a lovely pendant made from a gold nugget he unearthed on one of his out-of-state trips.
Smith admits the group has a bit of an unusual flavor. "We get all different kinds of people, all different spectrums in life. We have professional people, factory workers, tradesmen and retirees. We have them all," Smith said.
Article courtesy of sheboygan-press
Picture # 1 caption: Dennis Laubenstein of Bear Creek pans out five bits of gold in a swift 30 seconds as Bill Kern of Adell times him at New Hope Reformed Church in Greenbush, meeting site for the Sheboygan County Gold Prospectors Association of America. Press photos by Sam Castro.
Picture # 2 Caption: Wanda Buckland-Reil of Greenfield picks out a bit of "gold" (gold-painted lead) as she pans against the clock with a time of 2 minutes, 40 seconds as other prospectors watch before competing at the Sheboygan County Gold Prospectors Association of America events at New Hope Reformed Church in Greenbush.