Gold Rush Days this weekend at Swank Claim near Bellville

By Louise Swartzwalder -

CLEAR FORK VALLEY – The banks of the Clear Fork River will come alive in a few days when the lure of real prospecting draws fans here.

Over Labor Day weekend, members of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, and others, will gather for two days of events for the young and old. This is annual Ohio Gold Rush Days at the Swank Claim, 1099 Cutnaw Road, in Bellville. There will be common digs, vendors, food, auctions, beeper hunts and more. Events start at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tony Ledford, president of the local chapter of GPAA, said the local organization is one of 80 chapters in the United States.

This chapter became known in 1996 when two gentlemen from Michigan found large quartz nuggets with gold veins. They were told the whole piece would be worth $50,000 to $55,000. But they decided to split it, and each netted $1,200 to $1,600.

“That’s what first put us on the map,” said Ledford.

The Buckeye Chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America was started in 1996. People from all over the state came together to pan for gold. There are three claims in the state. The Swank Claim, the Frazee Claim near Zuck, and the Lewis Claim below Lucasville.

Although gold is not as plentiful in Ohio as in some of the other states, it does exist but you just have to work a little harder for it. Usually gold in Ohio is in the form of flour gold and takes a little more skill to uncover. There have been a few larger nuggets found here, but as a rule it is not the amount of gold found, but the love of the hunt for gold that draws people from all over the state to pan.

You must have a valid membership card to access any GPAA properties. Visitors are always welcome but must be accompanied by a member.

Some will be camping this weekend, too. But things will be on the primitive side, Ledford said. Porta pots will be provided, but otherwise people are on their own.

On the cooking front, there will be a chili cookoff on Sunday.

People bring metal detectors, and there are events designed for them. Kids get their share of fun, too. There is a kids’ common dig. Some people bring dowser rods to see what they can find, said Ledford.

A metal detecting event is done with black lights, so this makes things a bit more challenging.

All events are open to the public. This is good, Ledford said, because they want people to get interested in this craft, and to return.

Casual visitors to the event can get in and camp for $1. The annual membership for the organization is $84.50, according to Ledford.

Local groups for GPAA set up their own “claims,” where people can go and participate in events. Most groups doing this are located west of the Mississippi, because of mining laws, said Ledford.

Having such an event in Ohio is a bit unusual but people need to know more about it, said Ledford.

People coming to the events find garnet and quartz frequently. In addition, fossils are frequently found.

This event is done in a place that is kept in “pristine condition,” Ledford said. It is near the Wade and Gatton nursery site.

This GPAA event is the 23rd for the group, said Ledford.

Gold here was brought in by glaciers, and is known as placer gold.

Information about the group can be found on Facebook and at

By Louise Swartzwalder