My Year On Treasure Beach
By: Mike Smart
Gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, and more coins than you can hold! While this is obviously treasure in anyone’s eyes, it represents something more to me. I learned more about metal detecting and my equipment in one year than I would have learned in several years otherwise. I also had the pleasure of having my two young daughters participate in returning long-lost jewelry to three people. This, plus seeing all the crazy things that swimmers lose, helped make my season at “Treasure Beach” one I’ll never forget.
I live in Missouri and I’m fairly new to metal detecting. My wonderful wife, Emily, got me an entry-level metal detector from our local big-box for Christmas. I quickly tired of the parks and playgrounds and became frustrated with nowhere else to go. So, I put my metal detector in the closet and began devoting my time to the family and to some of my many other hobbies. (My brother says that I collect collections.)
One day the following December, while taking a break at work, I was reading Western & Eastern Treasures’ January issue— specifically, an article by Ron Aldridge called “Windows of Opportunity.” It spoke of recognizing a detecting opportunity when you see it and taking advantage of the situation while you can. This was fresh on my mind when I took my lunch to the Trail of Tears State Park near where I work.
When I got to the picnic area I noticed that the water in the lake was very low, and the roped-off swimming area was mostly high and dry. Sensing an opportunity, I stopped at the visitor center, where a kind and informed park employee explained the low water. It seemed that an extreme rain a few months earlier had damaged a levee that holds back the lake. The water was lowered 12', so the lake was below the damaged area of the levee. Apparently the beach would not reopen until the next summer at the earliest. If this wasn’t a window of opportunity, I don’t know what it was! The park employees even helped me get a permit to metal detect on the beaches of certain Missouri state parks.
I got my permit in mid-December and hit the beach with very encouraging first results. The swimming area was a roped-off expanse of water and an equally wide area of trucked-in sand for a beach. My instinct was to go to the waterline and work that area, as the water there would be the deepest when the lake was full. I worked the sand in all-metal mode and quickly realized that this place is very trashy. I dug pulltabs for a while anyway, got a strong “silver” signal, and pulled out a 22" heavy .925 silver rope chain! After that, I continued digging trash for a while before I turned up the discrimination so that I could go home with some change.
I went back the next morning when I had more time. Before leaving, I told my wife that I was heading out to find her some Christmas gold. She just laughed! On the way to the lake I told myself, “Coins are nice, but jewelry is better, so make sure you dig a lot of pulltabs before cranking up the discrimination to pocket some change.” I arrived at the lake, quickly hit the sand, and on about the third or fourth pulltab signal, I stuck in the trowel and struck gold! Out popped an amazingly beautiful 10K gold ring with a 1/4 carat diamond. When I got back home, I asked my wife, “What’s better than Christmas gold?” then pulled out the ring and said, “Christmas gold with a diamond on top!” The look on her face was priceless.
The next weekend I used the same strategy— all-metal mode until I got tired of digging and decided to go for the clad change. The park was built in the late 1950s, but the sand was much more recent. I had been there maybe 20 minutes when I got a “nickel” signal at 4". I dug in and instantly saw gold again! This was my first class ring.
The ring was from the class of 1999, from a high school about 25 miles away. Engraved inside the band was the name Shelley. The phone book was no help, but Facebook.com came through. I soon contacted Shelley and returned her ring on New Year’s Day. My daughters, Megan and Allison, accompanied me when we met Shelley, who told us that she had lost the ring while swimming in 2000, and spent the rest of the summer looking for it with friends, goggles, and rakes to no avail. Now, with the ring’s return, her new year was off to a good start, and so was mine.
Over the next few months I didn’t find any more gold but did make some interesting finds. I turned up a silver spoon ring (remember those?). This one was really cool. It had the state seal of Maryland on it— the state where I grew up! By this time I think I must have dug my body weight in pulltabs. Also on the list were lots of change, screwcaps, bottle caps, many sunglasses, fishing tackle, bathing suits, a rusty switchblade, shoes, hair ties, junk jewelry, cans, batteries, hardware, religious medallions and crosses, keys (including one engraved “State Property. Do Not Duplicate” that I returned to the park visitor center), false teeth, toy cars, a cloth wallet with only a dime for a call, cameras, belts, zippers and snaps and more assorted junk than I can list.
Digging all those holes taught me a lot about my metal detector and how it works. I learned the importance of gridding off an area and cleaning it out. I learned how vital it is to go super-slow to isolate individual targets in trashy spots. I learned to pinpoint targets and dig the smallest hole possible. I learned not to ignore zinc cent signals after one turned out to be a large gold ring. I learned not to ignore iron/foil signals when one proved to be a child’s gold ring. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of frequent practice and learning your metal detector thoroughly.
Back at the beach, I eventually noticed that I would continue to get both good and bad signals when I ventured off the sand and continued around a point toward the boat ramp. When I later learned that swimming used to be allowed in that area as well, this enlarged my hunting area greatly. The soil there was sand, mud, and clay, with lots of small plants taking hold. I found my only silver coins in this area, a 1952 dime and 1964 quarter. I also located a sweet 10K gold ring with diamond chips and 11 rubies, as well as four more class rings. So far I have managed to return two of these.
One was a class of 1991 ring from a nearby high school with initials inside the band. I called the school and told the secretary my story. She quickly found the owner, Darren, in the yearbook and called his parents with my phone number. Ten minutes later I was talking to Darren. My daughters and I met him at the park and returned his ring. Darren told us that he had lost his class ring on the last day of school in 1991 while swimming. Apparently his twin brother had lost his class ring, too, at a graduation party two weeks earlier. I’m sure their parents weren’t happy! Fast forward to 2007 when someone found the brother’s ring and returned it to him. Now here I was, returning Darren’s ring to him after it had lain almost 20 years in the lake. They have a great story, and so do I.
The other ring I returned was from the class of 1981, from our local high school. I found a website that mentioned the names of people involved with organizing the upcoming 30-year class reunion, and I recognized one name as that of someone I knew at work. I contacted him and read him the initials on the man’s ring. He looked up the information for the class of 1981, then called back to give me a name and phone number. I called Todd in Huntsville, Alabama and shocked him with the news of his ring. He told me that he had seen the ring fly into the lake when he threw a football on senior “skip day” in 1981. When I returned his ring it was two weeks before Christmas and one that Todd won’t forget. I’m still researching the other two rings in hopes of returning them as well.
Construction work is still going on at the lake, and the beach area remains closed. Soon the beach will be underwater again, however. Windows don’t stay open forever. Oh, well... it was great while it lasted!
Working this beach was an amazing learning experience for me. The sheer number and variety of targets, good and bad, at various depths in different soils, taught me a lot about metal detecting and my detector. Being able to return long-lost jewelry to three people and see their joy, while having my two young girls participate, is another reason why it will always be “Treasure Beach” to me!