Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

Aerial view of the dwindling water behind Folsom Dam indicates the extent of the drought up to that time. The spreading dry ground presents a seeming good opportunity for treasure hunters using metal detectors, but federal regulations don't allow those instruments to be used.

Lake bed attractive, illegal for diggers

Published: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 11:15 pm
Last Modified: Saturday, Mar. 8, 2014 - 8:36 am

Low water levels at Folsom Lake have presented metal detecting enthusiasts with a chance to unearth coins, trinkets and other objects that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.

Too bad, as ranger Mike Green and signs on the parkway point out, it’s illegal to use or possess a metal detector on federal land.

One Citrus Heights man recently made news when he was given a citation for taking a metal detector into the Folsom Lake State Recreational Area, which – while managed by the state – is on federal land.

Green said rangers saw a spike in illegal metal detector use when the water level receded to the point where parts of the long submerged mining town Mormon Island was exposed. The lack of early season rains made the parched Folsom Lake a popular place to explore. More recent rains have nudged water levels back up from historic lows.

“It’s kind of always been something that has happened here,” Green said. “It did get a little more popular with the water going down.”

Green said he generally treats the infractions as teachable moments and lets violators off with a warning. He was not involved in the reported Jan. 13 citing of Keegan Sukup. Sukup told media outlets then that he was unaware of the law.

He was not available for comment Friday.

John Duffy, a past president of Sacramento Valley Detecting Buffs, said his members abide by the law, but he questions why the regulation needs to cover well-traveled beach areas.

“If there is not going to be any disturbance of historic artifacts … I’m not clear in my own mind why there should be a restriction,” said Duffy, a retired state parks employee.

Duffy said he and other members gladly try to recover lost wedding rings, but can’t help if the jewelry is lost at Folsom Lake.

Over the years, he found several valuable rings. In some instances, markings allowed Duffy to return the rings to their owners.

He said the exposed lake bed “opens up an area that normally isn’t accessible,” making it attractive to metal-detector enthusiasts.

Club members generally search schools, parks and other public areas. They meet monthly to compare their finds. Today the club is gathering at 9 a.m. at the old Camp Pollock, now managed by the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, for a “planted club hunt,” in which tokens are hidden for participants.

He said finding old things gives him great joy.

“It’s a time warp. It causes me to think about the life and times that were going on then,” Duffy said. “I feel blessed when I uncover something that has been there a long time.”

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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