AUBURN (CBS13) — In a place known for the California Gold Rush, some would-be prospectors went looking for gold in the last place you'd probably expect.
But the city caught them with tools and flashlights digging under Old Town Auburn.
Auburn's Gold Rush past, preserved in historical Old Town, provides the backdrop for a most unusual mining expedition beneath the streets and under an old town restaurant.
Through the tiny opening of a trapdoor in the kitchen and with the help of a ladder, a CBS13 camera went down into a musty storm drain where the city says two men tried to mine for gold on and off for several months.
"When I first heard it, I did, I kinda laughed, like, who would actually crawl into a storm drain looking for gold?" said City Manager Tim Rundel.
He says sometimes transients come from the other side of the interstate, taking a tunnel that goes right under the freeway.
"Not someplace I'd want to be hanging out," he said. "It's a giant risk for a minimal reward, and it's not worth it."
From here, they crawled through pipes, wading through muck, into storm drains under Old Town.
"I've known about it for years. I've lived here for years, I've even been down in there," said longtime Auburn resident Neal Lohner.
Has he ever found anything? "Yeah, but I ain't saying what, or how much."
No matter what anyone says, the city would much rather folks prospecting in the numerous nearby state parks that actually allow it.
"It's how these legends start and it's how I want it to end, too, because there's no gold down there," he said. "We don't want you digging underneath our city, digging up our infrastructure."
Besides being dangerous, it's also trespassing. Auburn promises to haul anyone else caught in the storm drains off to jail, hoping the prospect of an arrest keeps gold hunters above ground.
This time, the two men were not arrested. The city says it's unlikely they found any gold, but they did do damage. All that picking away meant crews had to use 5,000 pounds of concrete and riprap to reinforce the storm drain.
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