(March 28, 2009) – Midland, NC – The mine is dank, musty and cool, with green fuzz growing on the rocky walls and a stand of mushrooms thriving on the gravel floor. Heavy wooden timbers brace the walls and ceiling. Darkened tunnels branch off to the left, right, or even straight up, barred by wooden slats and braced with timbers wedged in at crazy angles. The Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, on 880 acres near Midland, quietly awaits the next rush of visitors. Hard times attract visitors happy to pay $2 to pan through one pile of dirt hoping for gold.
Site Manager Sharon Robinson can tell you right away what gold is bringing on any given day – it was $925 an ounce recently – and higher prices attract an increase in visitors to her out-of-the-way historic site. When it was $1,064 an ounce, we definitely saw an increase in visitation – they were killing us! Robinson said. The site of the nations first gold find in 1799 and actively mined through much of the 19th century, the hills on John Reeds farm are honeycombed with shafts and tunnels. The historic site maintains a mile of tunnels and 36 marked shafts, according to Robinson, but there are others. She does not rule out the existence of unknown shafts. Visitors can take a tour through the tunnels and see the creek where gold was discovered. They also can get a pan and sift through mud supplied by the operators at a trough in hopes of finding gold. They dont get to search for gold in the creek or the tunnels, though. Anything they find in their pan belongs to them, Robinson said. But anything they find on the path or in the creek definitely belongs to the state. How would the staff know if someone just pocketed a nugget without saying anything? The big smile on their face would let us know, Robinson said.
Gold panning season opens March 31.