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Striking it rich? DNR discovers gold grains near Lake Vermilion

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There's gold in the Vermilion Iron Range – home to the unsuccessful gold rush in the 1800s – and that includes places that weren't known about before, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says.

The DNR says it has discovered "significant" gold findings on state land in northern St. Louis County, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

These findingsreleased by the DNR this week, include gold grains and "pristine" deposits of gold (see map below). They're notable because they were discovered in new areas, including some the DNR "didn't know about before," Dennis Martin, DNR minerals development manager, told the Duluth News Tribune.

The gold grain counts were found in 33 glacial sediment samples that were taken last fall. This effort was part of a three-year project to sample a 200-square-mile area of historical gold and base metal exploration, which lies between Cook and Tower, south of Lake Vermillion, the DNR says.

But don't start panning for gold just yet. The discovery of gold grains (which "slough off" gold deposits in bedrock over time and are pushed to the surface nearby, making them easy to find, the Duluth News Tribune explains) doesn't guarantee there are substantial gold deposits in the bedrock, the DNR notes.

The discovery, however, is the first step in determining the mineral potential of the area. The DNR's study could lead to a private mineral exploration company taking up a lease in the area to try and mine the gold, the DNR adds.

Martin told the Duluth News Tribune that finding the gold grains is "the easy part," whereas figuring out where the gold is coming from is "the hard part," noting it "could pay off for them and for the state."

The DNR holds silent auctions for mineral exploration rights on state lands annually, the newspaper notes. The U.S. government does the same on national forest lands.

Minnesota's gold rush

Minnesota had its own gold rush in the 1800s – although it was far less profitable than California's.

The discovery of gold in northern Minnesota led to the Vermilion Lake gold rush in 1856-66, but it wasn't successful as people had hoped, the DNR says.

Hardly any gold was discovered – only tiny amounts embedded in quartz – which led to miners abandoning the area by 1867.

Gold was discovered again – on Little American Island in Rainy Lake – in the summer of 1893, prompting miners to flock to the area again.

The Little American Mine has been the only productive gold mine to ever operate in Minnesota, the DNR says, although it wasn't that profitable: the low production rate of the mines ended in a "gold bust" by 1898, the National Park Service says.

Although the gold rush in Minnesota has been less than successful, it did help establish communities in northern Minnesota, including International Falls, the DNR notes.

It also led to the discovery of Minnesota's iron ore – which became far more lucrative than the gold.

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