VIDEO: Eye On Mining

Immigrants came to the Iron Range in 1865 in hopes of finding a gold jackpot, but as the story goes, they found iron ore instead. 

Fast forward to 2017 and the search for gold continues. 

"We're looking at the gold potential for this area."

That's according to Don Elsenheimer, a geologist for the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources. He said this is not the first time.

"This is part of the area that was opened up and explored for the Vermilion Gold Rush 150 years ago."

A century and a half later, the technique hasn't changed much.

Elsenheimer and his crew of one other man use only a shovel, a sifter, and a bucket to get samples.

"This technique is pretty cheap," said Elsenheimer. "Working at the DNR it's really effective because it allows us to cover a large area and collect a lot of samples and come up with a determination of what parts of our portfolio of mineral rights have higher or lower potential of mineral deposits."

This exploration started with a 200 square mile research area.

"It's worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack," said Elsenheimer.

That haystack recently got smaller.

"The last round of sampling produced some pretty exciting results in this one area. It's about a couple square miles."

Exciting results, but Elsenheimer says developing a gold mine is no small task.

"You have to find a big deposit right, and it's really expensive to do that and it's really risky. The state has neither the money nor the risk tolerance."

If the last round of sampling shows promising results, the state could lease the land to a company for drilling. 

"The companies might come in and they would take on the risk and they would spend the money you would need to do in order to really flesh out this potential to see if there is something here," said Elsenheimer. "More than just a few flakes."

The Minnesota DNR has 12 million acres of mineral rights. Each division of the DNR has an interest in developing the land, prompting some friendly competition.

"I'm really interested in it's mineral potential," added Elsenheimer. "But I have colleagues that might work in forestry that are looking at the trees. There might be somebody in fish and wildlife or eco-waters that say let's make a wildlife management. Or parks and trails who say let's make a snowmobile trail. There's all these competing land uses." 

But for now that land is showing potential for gold, although Elsenheimer says a gold mine is not in the area's near future.

The results from the sampling are available to the public within a month after the samples are sent to the lab.