Treasure Hunting

"I think every little boy wants to be a treasure hunter at some time and go out and find pirate treasure," club member, and past President, Duncan Bell said. "The first thing I found was a gold ring, and from that moment on, I was hooked."

The are plenty of ways to get outside in the Inland Northwest, but to the members of this club, only one really matters.

"I've given up hunting and fishing and golfing, because it takes time away from my detecting,"club President Eric Payne said.

Many members of the Northwest Treasure Hunters Club (NWTHC) have decades of metal detecting under their belts. Most started out looking for things of value, like coins, but their priorities shifted over time.

"I've always been interested in history, and when you start finding old padlocks, old buttons and tokens that were made in place of coins when there wasn't a lot of coins made in the turn of the century, all that came with history, a lot more history than coins," past NWTHC President Clay Soliday said.

Some NWTHC members travel to the East Coast and even internationally to find the richest pieces of history they can.

"It's like a time machine almost," Bell said. "My favorite find is a lead seal that you put in a wax matrix on a important envelope or whatever, from 1400 AD. It makes me think about what life was like back then."

Not every hunt is in an extraordinary place though, some club members let me join in a local hunt at Balfour Park in Spokane Valley. There, I scored my first find - a quarter(!) - and quickly learned the first rule of treasure hunting. Always leave the hunting site better than you found it.

"We work real hard at making sure it's done right," Soliday said. "It's the right thing to do." Club members pick up any trash they find while out hunting, and they hunt using probes like screw drivers or knives to avoid leave big holes in the ground. 

You likely wouldn't guess it by passing by, but this Balfour Park offered quite the range of items for a local hunt.

"We found quite a bit of junk, I've got to believe that there were houses here before they put the park in, because we found a couple of older things, but I would say, maybe 15 coins between us," Soliday said, he discovered the most notable find of the hunt, a pay tag from a coal company, likely left behind decades ago.

"I've got to do some research on it, and that's, this is a way better find than finding a silver dollar, really, because there's a lot more history with it," Soliday said.

I was surprised to find that they hunt for treasure at parks in the middle of town, though they do have to get permission first. Club members say parks are great for metal detecting because they're high traffic areas, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for things to accidentally leave things behind. 

For that very reason, one of their favorite places to hunt is in bodies of water. People lose things in lakes, rivers and ponds all the time - usually thinking those things will be lost forever. For club members, reuniting people with their lost items is one of the best parts of the hobby.

"The opportunity to give back has been one of the most satisfying portions of metal detecting that I've found. When you find an item that is identified in some fashion so that you can return it to someone who's lost it, it really, there's nothing better than to see the look on their face when they receive it," Payne said.

They've even had folks contact the club when they've lost something important, like a wedding ring. The club will go out to where the item was lost, and search as long as they can. They can almost always find what they're looking for.

I asked most members of the club what their favorite find has been. Their answer is typically a beautiful ring, or valuable coin, but for club President Payne, it's been something far better.

"My favorite find has been a social life," Payne said. "Metal detecting draws some of the best people I have ever met in my life. As far as friendship and just good hearted people."

If you want to join in on the fun, the club even has their own shop at the Pine Street Market in the Valley. They sell everything you need to get started - and you may just make a friend or two.