While there is gold to find in them thar hills, there are rules around panning for it.
Spokesperson with the Friends of Fort Steele Society, Dennis Juhaz, said illegal panning has been an issue at the Fisherville site.
“Recreational panning is causing damage to the Wildhorse Creek historic site,” said Juhaz. “The Wildhorse Creek is the site of the first gold rush in the East Kootenay region. Gold was discovered there in 1863, and the town of Fisherville was soon established.”
According to Juhaz, the area is protected under the BC Heritage Branch, which is planning to enact measures to preserve the site.
“Portions of the site have been damaged, and its heritage value has been eroded through this damage. Plans to stop further damage are being developed by the Heritage Branch and the Friends of Fort Steele,” explained Juhaz.
Signs and barriers will be posted around the area to notify visitors of the rules in the historical site.
“It’s not to prohibit regular hikers that go up there. The two roads that are up there are being used by squatters who are pailing out gravel. That’s causing major damage up there,” said Juhaz
The plan is to stop mining activity in the area, limit vehicle access, and redirect the public to public recreational gold panning sites.
“There are a number of recreational panning reserves around the province that are open to the public. One is close by, about four kilometres south of the site,” said Juhaz.
Fisherville’s population grew to nearly 5,000 people by 1865, which was home to a significant number of Chinese immigrants.
The historic site still has the remains of some buildings, as well as a cemetery and Chinese burial grounds. The burial grounds hold historic significance because it is a display of Asian settlement in the region and provides an example of Chinese burial practices in Canada.
The Friends of Fort Steele Society has been responsible for caring for the site since 2003, and gold panning has not been allowed in the area to protect its historical value.
**This article was written in collaboration with MyEastKooteanyNow.com’s Dennis Walker**