By Chris Hendrickson, special to the Monitor
Ever wondered what it would be like to find treasure? Visit Prospector’s Plus, a real, working gold mining and prospecting store located in Gold Bar, and it may only be a matter of time before you are experiencing that seductive gold flash-in-the-pan for yourself.
Walking into Prospector’s Plus, you are welcomed by owners Chris and Michele Brawn, along with their 5-year-old son Cody, who is a sixth-generation gold prospector. This is a store with heart. A heart of gold, to be exact. The store is busy on a Friday morning, and Chris is in the process of selling one of his custom gold pans, the Brawn Two-in-One.
Prospector’s Plus has been in business for close to five years, and fills a unique niche within the Sky Valley’s repertoire of outdoor recreational activities. Prospecting for gold is a family-friendly hobby that is attractive on many different levels; splashing around in rivers, creeks and streams is fun for kids and adults alike; it’s great exercise; you can choose to go it alone or enjoy group camaraderie within the prospecting community by becoming a member of Prospector’s Plus.
Any chance of putting a little extra cash in your pocket? Absolutely. As an active member of the club, any gold you find on a Prospector’s Plus gold claim is yours to keep; however, going into prospecting solely for the purpose of obtaining wealth may not be very realistic, at least in the beginning.
“The first rule of prospecting is to have patience; the second rule is to go into it for fun and not the money,” said Michele.
Chris and Michele opened their store in 2009. Originally in Sultan, the couple moved their shop to Gold Bar in 2010. Indeed, experiencing a bit of a gold rush, Prospector’s Plus is currently the largest club in the Northwest, and the second largest club in the United States, with membership at approximately 1,800 potential prospectors. In an effort to support this and promote further growth, the Brawns are constantly expanding their owned mineral rights, also known as claims, which are currently at about 2,000 gold-bearing acres.
They have a new television commercial being featured on the Discover Channel reality show Gold Rush, along with the Black Gold series on TruTV.
The Brawns are also opening a new Prospector’s Plus store in Yakima on March 1. The store will be run by Chris’ brother, Nick Brawn.
“The Yakima store is bringing in some new claims, and we expect to be over 4,000 acres by the end of the year,” said Chris.
Prospector’s Plus offers a wealth of information on how to get started prospecting, the best equipment to use, where to find gold, and how to stay within the law. To the Brawns, it’s all about educating people and having a great time doing it.
“We started the membership program because we wanted people to know there’s a place for families to come and go panning. We’re here to teach them how to do this, and how to do it legally,” said Chris.
There are many regulations when it comes to small scale mineral prospecting. Things to consider include whether you’re in a national forest, a watershed or other environmentally protected area, what type of wildlife may be present, and the issue of being on somebody else’s claim. Prospecting on somebody else’s claim is known as “claim jumping” and can be serious business.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time people don’t know they are claim jumping,” explained Michele.
In addition to helping you understand your rights, membership has other advantages, and $70 per year will cover an entire family. Becoming a member entitles you to visit any of the gold-bearing claims owned by Prospector’s Plus, free camping, access to quality equipment, the opportunity to pan with other gold prospecting enthusiasts, a 10 percent discount on all in-store and online products and access to the frequent Prospector’s Plus events and outings.
“We want to get people up off the couch, away from the TV, and out into the woods,” stated Chris.
Michele added, “We try to have outings every month. We do big barbecues and we feed everyone.”
“Ninety percent of the people that go on our outings find gold,” she continued.
In addition to prospecting, the Brawns have gone into the manufacturing side of the business with their company Brawn Manufacturing. They build a variety of sluice-boxes, top-of-the-line dredges, high bankers, and Brawn’s custom $20 Two-in-One gold pan is now for sale in their store.
“It took us about a year to develop the pan, lots of testing, lots of prototypes. They were a huge hit in California with the speed-panning competition folks,” explained Michele.
Claims Manager Brian Burvant has worked for the Brawns for just over a year. Venturing from the store to nearby Olney Creek, Burvant demonstrated gold panning and how to use a sluice box. He talked about being able to “read a river,” which basically means examining the way a river or creek moves, to get a sense of where there might be gold.
Speaking about his boss, he said, “Chris can read a river. He’ll just look at it and say, ‘dig there. There’s gold there.’”
The creek bed at Olney has various holes dug alongside it, most likely left from recent prospectors.
Burvant paused, set his equipment down, and used his shovel to fill in the holes. He talked about the importance of cleaning up after yourself; specifically, not leaving holes in your wake. Pointing to a small pool of water caused by someone’s left-behind hole, he explained, “A fish could swim in there and get landlocked.”
Small claims mining using pans and sluice boxes can be done all year round. Seasons do exist for dredging and other motorized equipment. Prospector’s Plus is able to educate people who want to give it a try. Everyone employed at the store is well-versed in the Gold and Fish Pamphlet, which was created by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and serves as your permit to prospect in Washington State.
“Call the store to your heart’s content and ask us a million questions,” said Burvant. “We are happy to answer them.”
All new members are instructed in how to obtain their copy of Gold and Fish.
Prospecting gear does not have to be a huge investment, and you can pick up the basics for around $30.
Anyone is invited to stop in the store and try their hand at panning, and you don’t have to commit to a membership. Practice on a $20 “Pan-A-Can,” which is filled with gold-bearing material from one of Brawn’s claims in Liberty, Wash. Liberty is one of Washington’s oldest living ghost towns, and Brawn’s family has been mining there since 1868.
There are many upcoming events including the WPMA Gold, Gem and Mineral Show, Feb. 23 and 24, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, where you can meet the team from Prospector’s Plus, plus check out their newest equipment.
Coming this spring and summer, Prospector’s Plus will be hosting numerous prospecting member events featuring panning and sluicing at Olney Creek, a dredge camp, a miner’s rally held in Liberty and much more.
Prospector’s Plus is located at 121 Croft Ave. (U.S. 2) in Gold Bar. For more information on becoming a member, stop by the store or go to their website, at: http://www.prospectorsplus.com/. For a PDF version of the Gold and Fish pamphlet: http://tinyurl.com/goldandfish.
In the words of owners Chris and Michele Brawn, “Live long and Prospect.”