There was gold to be discovered and dozens of people tried their luck.
Eight-year-old Christian Harrell of Brookings was among the successful ones. He held up a plastic collection bottle and exclaimed, “Look at all that gold in there!”
He joined other beginners on a recent Saturday to learn the ins and outs of gold panning from Jack Rowe, a longtime prospector who teaches occasional classes at Loring’s Lighthouse Sporting Goods.
Rowe discussed the laws covering recreational gold panning – “I don’t want them to get a ticket” – and demonstrated the right way to swish water around in a pan to reveal some gleaming nuggets.
He brought dirt from his own claim on the Chetco River for kids and adults to practice with. The newbies held pans over buckets at Loring’s, intently watching their progress.
Christian’s father, James, soon got the hang of it, too.
The Harrell family, including James’ wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Austin, 4, plans a group trip to the Chetco.
“We thought it would be great to go up and do some panning,” James said. “We’re supposed to be here learning so we can teach them.”
Christian turned the tables on that idea when he found gold during one of his first few attempts.
Howard Green and his fiancee, Sherree Corlett, both of Brookings, were getting their first lesson as well.
“We decided it’s one of those Oregon things, like fishing, that you have to do,” Green said.
Nolan Padgett, 8, of Crescent City, showed the grownups how it’s done by revealing some sizeable nuggets in his pan.
“He now has gold fever,” Rowe said. “It’s a malady that lasts a lifetime.”
Rowe, who is in his early 80s, has had the fever since he was 15. He wore a blue cap with the insignia “Gold Prospectors Association of America” as he doled out information about panning methods and even advice on the best hip waders to wear.
Among the tips he offered: Don’t touch the inside of the pan because oil from fingers will increase water surface tension, causing black sand and gold to float to the top and possibly run out of the pan.
Rowe smiled as he watched youngsters immersed in the pursuit of riches. “He’s just the right age to get started,” he said, pointing to one of the 8-year-olds.
Rowe recalled a presentation he did for some Boy Scouts a few years ago. A Scout master warned him to be brief because the boys’ attention span was about five minutes.
But Rowe said that once the youngsters got started they barely stopped to eat barbecued hamburgers, sometimes holding the bun with one hand and swishing a pan with the other.
“All it takes is for one kid to find a nugget and the competition is on,” he said.