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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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May 9, 2002: Gold Panning: Filing a Claim

Q: Over the last few years you have described panning for gold and diamonds and how some friends even helped to partially pay their ways through college by doing so. The weather is warm and we are getting ready to head for the hills and back to several places we want to claim. I got the material from the Federal Center in Lakewood on how to file a claim, but I have a feeling there has to be more to it.

A: I need to thank my good friend, Ken Meadows, for much of this response to your question. And yes, there are important steps that are not mentioned in the governmental material. Since I have previously written about how to stake, map, and mark the site itself, let's step back and look at the big picture.

The following is a checklist if you file on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property and if you select the status of a "casual" or "recreational" claimant. Filing under other classifications or for other kinds of federal lands requires much more expense, effort, and paperwork.

First, look carefully at the area to see if there are any markers that might indicate that part or all of your site has already been claimed. Even if you find nothing, telephone the local BLM office to see if its records show any claims. Also have them send you the necessary forms, procedures, and requirements.

Next, go to the county offices in which the property is located and look at the records to see if there are already any registered claims on the property in question, and even more importantly to be sure that your area is not under a Mineral Reserve (private claims are not allowed there).

As a relatively new problem, many of these areas are now part of the National Historic Registry. If this could be affecting your site, just accept the fact that it is not worth the effort to pursue your claim.

Only after doing all the above do you want to "stake" your claim as described in your BLM booklet, fill out the forms, and then record them in the county where the site is located. When the documents are returned, send the paperwork to the BLM. You will get back your BLM form with your CMC Number and are the proud possessor of a mining claim.

But what do you have? Well, you own the right to prospect and keep any minerals that you might find, but you do not have the right to do anything else, such as graze cattle or put up a house. In fact, it is questionable whether you can even put up a fence. In yesteryears, filing your mineral claim was the first step to getting the legal title to the property, but no longer.

You must honor all the environmental, mining, water, and labor laws, not to mention zoning ordinances. You do not have the legal right to keep "trespassers" off the site, unless they are prospecting or somehow interfering with your use of your claim. But how will you know if you are not there to monitor? You also have to do your upkeep work and pay fees, assessments, and possibly taxes.

With the Colorado golden rectangle of about fifty miles wide and two hundred miles long starting close to Boulder and running diagonally through the state to Durango, there is more than enough land to "play" in. My suggestion is to "mine" those history books to find the best areas in which you might have an interest before you go out to the location. Use your time and energy in the field instead of doing paperwork and worrying about "claim jumpers." Remember, you will normally be in areas where you will find gold concentrated in small sites. Once exhausted, it is time to move on. It is not like finding that bonanza vein of gold. If you try the "run and gun" approach (sampling as many areas as possible), you probably will have more fun, see more of Colorado, and make more money.

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