March 11, 2010

Route 26 a gem hunter's dream

BJ BANGS

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Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

Many gems can be found along Route 26. Places to hunt for treasure abound and will suit beginners and experienced rock hounds.

Zoltan and Jody Matolcsy are in their third season at Western Maine Mineral Adventures in Woodstock. They teach people, ages 3 to 93, the basics of rock hunting. They sell buckets of ''dirt'' and teach people how to look for minerals.

People dig in the rock pile that has come from local mines, filling their bucket. Then, they shovel a portion of it into a double sifter -- one fits on top of the other. They gently shake the dirt and then immerse each pan into a sunken sink. Once the stones are washed, they are dumped onto a flat area beside the sink.

''The tables are white to make the gems stand out,'' Zoltan Matolcsy said. ''Look for color.''

Jody Matolcsy has been a rock hunter ''almost forever.'' A few years ago, she started Jody's Mineral Tours, guiding educational tours of local gem mines. Then, due to a change of events that resulted in her husband giving up construction work, they started thinking they should start a full-time mining and mineral collecting business.

''One thing led to another, and things just fell into place,'' Zoltan Matolcsy said. ''We've met a lot of great people, and they come back, some as often as every week.''

''It's addictive,'' said frequent visitor Martin Bowen of Richford, Vt.

For those that want more adventure, the Matolcsys offer guided trips to Mount Mica on Sundays. They also offer trips on a request basis to Mount Apatite, Bennett Quarry, Orchard Pit, Lower Trenton and Russell in Topsham, Intergalactic Mine at Deer Hill and to the Swift River for gold panning. To make reservations, call 890-9753 or go to www.diggerms.com. They're open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until snow flies.

For those who want a longer adventure, Poland Mining Camps, open from Memorial Day to Sept. 30, offers three-day and longer stays, plus day tag-along tours if there's room. To make a reservation, call 998-2350 a few days in advance. Owner Mary Groves says the camps have been there since the 1960s, and it does seem like there's a growing interest in mining.

Her late husband, Irving, started Poland Mining Camps. There are six cabins fully equipped with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen. There's a 20-by-50-foot building housing the dining area, and when they host conferences like the coming Pegmatite workshop sponsored by the University of New Orleans, she's in the kitchen cooking for up to 45 people.

Maine's Granite Pegmatite Belt is in Oxford and Androscoggin counties, and staying at the camps gives people exclusive access to famous pegmatite quarries to collect specimens, study geology and enjoy access to mining areas not available to the public. Groves has trips to Mount Mica and her quarries at Auburn's nearby Mount Apatite, as well.

Volunteers like Pam Dillingham, who had been coming to Poland for 10 years, liked mining so much she relocated from Medway to Oxford. Now she helps Groves with everything from cleaning the cabins to cooking to checking the mines.

Dillingham helps patrons find some interesting stones. She explains that the same mineral will vary from mine to mine -- it may have less of a certain carbon or a little something extra.

''What you'll find in one mine will be different from another,'' she said. ''And each mineral has a different crystal. Having that knowledge available helps a lot when you're rock hunting.''

Perham's is located on Route 26 in West Paris. Stan Perham is a mining legend in this area. His son Frank continues mining. His daughter Jane operates the store and has written a number of books on mineral collecting. Perham's has three mines open to the public, if they are not being mined at that time. They also host a collection of minerals at the store.

Other places along Route 26 of interest, according to Groves, are Nicholas Rochester, Oxford; Dennis Gross, Locke Mills; Dennis Creaser, South Paris; Jim Mann, Mount Mann Jewelers, Bethel; and Phil McCrillis, Mount Mica Rarities, Bethel.

BJ Bangs is a freelance writer who lives in Phillips.

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