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These days, finding a sense of community is a lot like prospecting for gold

Salena Zito on

WAMPUM, Pennsylvania -- Keith Roupp has a story to tell, the kind that beckons you to pull up a chair and sit a spell while he tells it.

It all begins with a crystal-clear stream not far from his home in Lawrence County, a 14,000-year-old glacier that no one's really thought about for 14,000 years, and a young man with an old soul connecting with the land around him.

"Like many young people from around here, I've always been an outdoors person -- love everything about it. And like many young people, I've always been intrigued by the idea of finding a treasure, in particular, gold," Roupp said. "You see, with gold, you really have to work hard to earn it."

That's right. His newfound hobby is prospecting. Through it, Roupp has found not just gold but also an appreciation for how communities and common purpose forge new friends and experiences.

Over 170 years ago, James W. Marshall found flecks of gold during an inspection of a tailrace waterway of a primitive sawmill. He proclaimed, "Boys, by God, I believe I have found a gold mine!" Since then, the adventures and riches of finding that precious metal have beckoned men and women from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

That Jan. 24, 1848, moment spread as rapidly as possible for the time, by telegraph, overland stagecoach, pony express and emigrant trains. It drew thousands of people -- some adventurous, many desperate -- to visit a vast, mysterious land recently ceded to the United States by Mexico.

 

It was not the first gold rush in the country, though. That distinction lies due south of here in North Carolina and dates back to 1799 when a 12-year-old boy found a large gold nugget along a creek that ran through the family farm. The family used it as a doorstop for years, not understanding its value.

The discovery eventually led to the Carolina gold rush and a 28-pound nugget found in the same creek.

Roupp found himself intrigued with the idea of prospecting when his buddy showed him a little vial with about half a gram of gold in it.

"He told me he had found it along on Neshannock Creek, and so, I decided to do a little bit of surveying and look around for things myself," he said. "The Neshannock is not my favorite spot, even though I can see it from my home." It's a sparkling tributary that runs from Mercer County and empties into the Shenango River in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

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