Connecting the gold dots

Jun 23, 2012 | 0 comments


When I was flying into Nome from Anchorage the other day, I was seated next to a lovebird-ish couple in their mid-60s. I chatted with the wife a little bit and found out that they were from Ohio and had never been to Nome before. “We’re here for 2 months for a GPAA program,” she said so proudly that I didn’t bother to ask what GPAA stood for.

Well, I soon forgot about the conversation — until today when I suddenly connected all the dots:

First, when my supervisor was initially giving me a tour of town, she mentioned that Nome is in the middle of a sort of “second” gold rush, triggered by the Discovery Channel show, Bering Sea Gold, now in its second season. Apparently after its first season, people started flooding to Nome to make their fortune through gold dredging in the Bering Sea and Norton Sound, since the Discovery Channel “characters” were doing so well.

The second “dot:” So yesterday when I was at the Nome Visitor’s Center, a man was asking one of the rangers about where it was legal to use metal detectors for gold panning on the public beach, because he had heard it was illegal everywhere. The ranger later found out from the DNR that it actually IS legal, but DNR had released this interesting statement to Nome prospectors online:

“The DNR has received numerous inquiries this month about how to obtain a gold claim offshore of Nome, Alaska. These inquires are from viewers of the Discovery Channel’s reality series – ‘Bering Sea Gold’. Many of the viewers who have contacted DNR have indicated they would like to acquire their own gold claim in the Bering Sea so they could mine their claim like the miners in the series….

…Regardless of what the Discovery Channel Series may convey, gold claims in the Bering Sea are not available for the public to acquire. The only areas for the public to mine are the above two recreational mining areas. …”

And the final “dot” that brought it all full circle: today during lunch break I thought to Google this “GPAA,” that my airplane buddy had mentioned, and bam!: Gold Prospector’s Association of America. She and her husband were coming to Nome for a nearly $16,000 “Alaska Expedition” to pan for gold with this organization.

Bad drawing of a gold pan
I didn’t realize before I came here that gold mining is such a prominent industry in Nome. In fact, it’s the primary industry. You don’t really think of gold mining as a modern thing, but here it is nearly as booming a business as it was a hundred years ago. People are literally coming from all over the country to seek their fortune in this tiny bush town where it’s not even legal to do the kind of big dredging that will get you enough gold to pay off the expenses of coming here.

What an amazing place this is! I have so many more stories to tell already, but I think those will just have to wait. Tomorrow there’s a lot going on — the Midnight Sun Parade, followed by the annual mock bank robbery, then the Polar Bear Swim in the Bering Sea, Folk Fest, and a tundra hike in the evening (which is only a figure of speech here — it’ll be bright as day all night!).


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