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Finding Minnesota: Gold Prospecting In The Midwest Region

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesotans looking to strike it rich may not need to look any further than the Iron Range.

Last year, the DNR announced the discovery of gold grains and small gold deposits up near Lake Vermillion.

But that's not the only area to find gold in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Gold prospectors say the precious metal can be found throughout the region.

There are some who see the rushing water of our region's creeks and streams as its own natural treasure.

But for gold prospectors John Sabatka and Rick Bottolfson, the bigger reward is just below the surface.

"It's kind of like that gold fever, once you see it, it's like, yes, I need more of it," Bottolfson said.

The biggest challenge of gold prospecting is knowing where to find it. At its core, prospecting is an educated guessing game and in a region with no reputation for precious metal, the prize is even more elusive.

"You could dig 10 holes and not find," Sabatka said. "You could dig right there and find nothing and dig right here and find a ton," Sabatka said as he set up a sluice in Wisconsin's Plum Creek.

"Sometimes, your hopefulness is just so high and reality breaks in and it's like, ah nothing," Bottolfson said.

Yet, that precious metal is scattered throughout the Midwest brought in by the glaciers and hidden in the bedrock since the ice age.

"Any of your smaller streams in Minnesota and Wisconsin, most of them do have gold in them," Sabatka said.

"Finding something that's been in the ground that no one's ever touched before, no one's ever seen, there's just something cool about that," Bottolfson said.

Bottolfson picked up a pan five years ago, Sabatka within the last three, and like the gold rush of the past, a few gold flecks often fuel the dream of fortune.

"When you start to find 5-6 pieces of color in a pan, that's pretty good, and you can start moving some dirt," Bottolfson said.

Little has changed in the method and tools needed to unearth it. Modern-day prospectors still rely on a sluice or pan to pull up their gold. The process is also an exercise of patience to sift through rock and sand to find the treasure beneath it.

"It's very tedious, especially, when you have so much heavy black sand in there. It takes forever," Bottolfson said.

After all that work, the payout, even on the best day, rarely reaches a weight to find any real value.

"I thought I was going to get rich," Bottoflson said. "I thought I was going to be able to quit my job but it was far from it."

"It's the kind of hobby that costs you money," Sabatka said.

The glaciers that brought the gold in also crushed it to near power form.

"I've got maybe two grams of gold from the last two years coming down here," Bottolfson said.

In precious metals there's always that glimmer of hope that the next pan will hold its weight in gold.

"What do they say? Only 10 percent of the gold has been found," Bottolfson said. "One day, maybe that will be me."

Bottolfson said prospectors have also found diamonds and other precious gems, especially in Wisconsin.


There are regulations for gold prospecting in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. To look at them, go here and here.

If you'd like to learn how to pan for gold or join in, there's a Facebook page where you can get advice from fellow prospectors.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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