"The soil contains dissolved minerals that people need. We take them in through the crops we plant." In addition to giving West Virginia minerals the official respect they deserve, the naming of a state mineral serves as an economic development vehicle as well, Guthrie said.
"Forty-four other states had an official mineral before we named ours," he said. "There are thousands and thousands of rockhounds out there." Word of West Virginia's official gem selection has already been sent to amateur mineralogy publications, including Lapidary Journal, the avocation's bible.
"Rockhound clubs take a lot of field trips, and I'm sure there will be plenty of trips made to Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties," said Guthrie, whose own club has recently made trips to Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee.
Rockhounds, who are used to out-of-the-way locales and don't require fancy hotels or four-star restaurants, pump money into local economies without requiring investments to accommodate them.
Finding West Virginia's official gem isn't all that tricky, once you know where to look for it, Guthrie said.
"In some places there's so much of it, farmers throw it down sinkholes to get it out of the way," he said. "Some pieces, called 'coral heads,' weigh as much as 15 pounds. The denser the coral, the more valuable it is."
In areas where the gem is known to exist, rock quarries and plowed fields are the prime scouting locales. West Virginia fossil coral's color ranges from light blue to dark blue-gray, and from pink to red. When tumbled and polished, it can be fashioned into belt buckle ornaments and other eye-catching jewelry items.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at steelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-3438-5169.