"I get enjoyment out of being outside, making new friends and having a good time," said Joe Smoot of St. Albans, the GPAA's state director for West Virginia and Virginia. "If I find a little color, that makes it all a little better."
Although the state Geological and Economic Survey's Website states that "there has been no native gold or silver recognized to date in West Virginia," several of the West Virginia prospectors said they have found small quantities of gold in their home state.
"I've found a little bit up in the mountains, and there's probably some up in the Ohio River," said Kessler. "We need to find a place that's not so far away, where we can go and pan on weekends."
Smoot said the legal status of prospecting for gold in West Virginia is cloudy, and that his organization hopes to introduce a bill in the state Legislature to bring some clarity to the subject -- hopefully, in a way that accommodates recreational prospecting.
"We'd like to get something passed that's similar to what they have in Virginia," he said. There, gold prospecting is legal with landowner permission, and power sluicing and suction dredging are permissible with small-diameter suction hoses where certain fish species and spawning habitats are not present.
The rewards of recreational gold prospecting have more to do with collecting memories with friends and family than accumulating wealth.
"It would be really difficult for weekend warriors like us to make any real money prospecting," said Kessler. "But there's always the chance of finding something nice, whether it's a piece of gold, a gem or an arrowhead."
In addition to Nitro and Smithville, West Virginia GPAA chapters can be found in Craigsville in Nicholas County and New Haven in Mason County.
On September 20-21, the national GPAA organization will hold a Gold and Treasure Expo at the Jackson County Armed Forces Reserve Center at Millwood, featuring seminars in prospecting, an array of prospecting vendors, and a possible appearance by "Gold Fever" host Tom Massie.
The Nitro Chapter of the GPAA meets on the second Saturday of the month at Rock Lake Park in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston. Meetings start at 2 p.m.
"For people who have wondered about prospecting, this is a chance to give it a try," Kessler said. "We have some nice outings, and you come in contact with people with skills to share."
For more information on the GPAA, visit www.goldprospectors.org.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.