A 'golden opportunity' envisioned

CAREY JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

A 'golden  opportunity' envisioned

WOOD -- At the end of an old stagecoach road, on a property at the edge of Franklin County, members of the Northeast Franklin County Revitalization Committee had a clear vision of what could be.

"It's a golden opportunity out here," said group member and videographer, Willie Durham.

He meant that, both literally and figuratively.

Since its inception about four years ago, members of the grassroots community have been trying to figure out ways to generate interest and drive economic development toward the northeastern part of Franklin County.

One of their goals has been to secure property and resources to build a gold mine museum and tourist attraction that brings people, money and interest to the region -- much like the gold rush of the 1800s brought prospectors to Franklin and Nash counties.

Back in March, the group toured Tim Fisher's property just over the Franklin County line, as the Nash County resident hopes to turn a once-in-a-lifetime find -- a 1900s gold dredge -- into the hook he needs to build a living museum on the property.

Last week, members of the group visited Steve Bland's 19-acre gold mine property on the edge of Franklin County.

Bland, too, would like to transform the rich, red clay property into a living museum, complete with, perhaps a restaurant or food truck setup, some log cabins for those looking to make a weekend out of 1800's-style living, and a chance to dip their own buckets in earth that was once rich with gold in the hopes that they could get lucky, too.

"We want to have it where you can come in, we'll show you how to pan and give you a two-gallon bucket," Bland said for what he'd like to see for weekend, touring prospectors.

"We'll provide a sprinkle of gold for bragging rights," he said to get people hooked. "You don't want to just get muddy for no reason. You want to take something home.

".... If [people] really want to get involved, we'll let them go dig in the creek," he said. "Once in the creek, there's no telling what you may find.

"[If] you find one of those quarter ounce nuggets, I might wrestle you for it."

Right now, those thoughts are just in the planning stages.

Bland and a partner mine the property themselves for gold, and have been pretty successful, he said.

"... Recently, we found where the old-timers quit digging," he said. "We're finding a nugget a week.

"We're really giddy that we're finding that type thing."

However, for the property to take off like Bland envisions, being a destination for those interested in the history of gold mining and coming out for a good time, he'll need some help.

Group member Chris Edwards suggested that Bland cast his net wide in terms of searching for help.

Franklin, Nash, Halifax and parts of Edgecombe counties are all within close proximity of the property, he noted.

"I wonder if the right people ... jump on this thing, instead of one somebody wanting to help you, if you had five [prospects], and two of them panned out, it would be a better shot."

Bland agreed.

"I would rather have a double barrel shotgun than a single shotgun," he said.

Group member Lucy Allen, a former Louisburg mayor and legislator, suggested Michael Wray in the House of Representatives might be an ally. She also suggested that the Golden Leaf Foundation could be a resource.

"I'm willing to talk to anybody," Bland said. "... My background is in general contracting, building big houses, so building it, I got no problem managing that," he said.

"... Getting grant money or some kind of financing [is the issue]," he said. "Doing it myself, I could do it in two or three years."

The hope is that the Northeast group could help Bland make contacts to do it quicker.

"I've got all the time in the world to put into it, and I'm fully retired," he said. "... If Franklin County would like to help with that living museum, if there is federal grant money available, if somebody would help me write a grant ... we could have it functional with the public out here in three to four months," he said.

Pictured (Above): TAKE A GANDER. From left, Lucy Allen, Jim Foster and Rex Foster get a glimpse of some of the gold that Steve Bland, right, has pulled from his gold mine property at the edge of Franklin County. Bland hopes to turn the property into a tourist attraction. (Times photos by Carey Johnson)