Prospecting or panning for gold is one of the fastest-growing outdoor recreational activities in America, and Georgia is a promising state to try your hand at it. With 500 gold mines and prospecting sites in 37 counties, Georgia has been home to some important gold finds and is a popular draw for those seeking good fun that may be profitable as well. To keep the activity safe for individuals and the environment, some rules and regulations have been established.
“ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal” reports that any person who wishes to examine or mine a particular area for placer gold (i.e., gold collected in river beds and on beach areas) must first find out if the land is privately owned, already claimed or under patent; this rule is applicable in all states. Anyone who enters land where any of those conditions exist is considered an intruder, is guilty of trespassing and will have no legal right to any gold that might be discovered. Existing claims on the land should be marked, and records can be verified at the respective county courthouse.
Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
Gold prospecting and panning in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests are allowed, as long as hand or power tools for digging are not used and gold collection does not interfere with existing mineral rights on the land. Permits, fees and special permission are not required for recreational gold panning in most streambeds, as long as there is no stream disturbance. Trowels and pans are allowed, but in-stream sluices and suction dredges are prohibited. District rangers can affirm whether or not the stream is on national forest land and can also provide road conditions. While some roads are easily accessible, some are approachable only on foot or with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Georgia Gold Prospectors Association
This organization allows members access to specified land, so obtaining clearance to prospect or pan for gold is not needed. However, several actions are prohibited, including cutting down live trees, digging into banks and the use of caustic chemicals or mercury for gold recovery. Explosives and discharging firearms is also forbidden. Powered equipment and manual forms of prospecting, panning, sluicing and various forms of metal detecting are allowed, but different equipment items should be kept 50 feet apart, upstream or downstream. Water should not be disturbed by removing and throwing large rocks or cobble onto the banks. Traveling or prospecting outside of claim boundaries is against regulations and could lead to a confrontation with a landowner.
Potential prospectors can seek permission to search for gold on any property, but Georgia offers several public-access areas for panning and detecting gold. The Chattahoochee National Forest Service controls several lands in the towns of Batesville and Blairsville, as well as gravel beds and runoffs in Lumpkin County. Local forest rangers can provide maps, information about mineral rights and any regulations that are special to the area.
Donna G. Morton lives in Atlanta and has been writing for more than 27 years. She earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism from East Tennessee State University and spent 15 years in radio and corporate advertising, winning 10 Excellence in Advertising Awards for creative writing.