By Roberta Jasina

These guys know how to party like it’s 1849. Their idea of fun is panning for gold in Michigan: The Platte River, Lake Huron, Lake Superior.

They’re members of the Michigan Chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. Nick Straffon, of Algonac, is president of the 200-member strong organization.

“Gold is all over the place. The problem is it’s dispersed throughout the entire state. There’s a lot of gold here, but it’s equally dispersed. There’s no real concentrated areas like there is out in California and Alaska,” he said.

So, how much has Straffon? “A little bit of dust,” he said, adding that he’s no millionaire. “We are hobbyists.”

Panning for gold might sound like an adventure but it’s not a free-for-all either, thanks to state laws.

“We are very restricted in the locations we can go and the types of equipment we can use,” said Straffon. “The amount you can collect in Michigan in a year is a half ounce. About $600.”

So no one is getting rich. Not even close. And the treasure hunt is hard, sweaty work. Take it from 57-year-old Doug McClure, a retired U.S. Marine from Westland.

“After 8 hours, I can usually come up with about .10 grams,” he said. “That’s not even $5.”

What? Only $5? In eight hours? Yikes! So, what’s the point?

“Fun. Just Fun,” said 65-year-old Lewis Birdsell, of Newaygo. “Finding the stuff and being around a bunch of other nuts,” he said with a laugh.

Shawn Willett, a 44-year-old factory worker from Saginaw, said for him, panning for gold with pals is therapy.

“I call it dirt therapy. Whenever I start getting cranky on the line at work, it’s time for some dirt therapy. I grab a shovel, a couple buckets, my mini highbanker, and turn some dirt until I’m tired out and I feel better,” he said.

Seventy-year-old Della Bednarick, from Cadillac, couldn’t agree more.

“I have prospected for many years, probably over 20. I had a high pressure job in a bank and I just needed to do something that was just totally different that what I did every day,” she said. “You’re shoveling dirt and you’re not thinking about anything else. It just kind of clears your mind.”

If you’re in the mood for some “dirt therapy” here’s your chance to dig in: Their next outing is August 15 in Newberry.

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