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Gold price spike a boon for Alaska prospectors

Posted: August 13, 2011 - 7:26pm

FAIRBANKS — A spike in gold prices is bringing some extra customers to businesses that supply prospectors.

The Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/pHkOyz ) that jittery, uncertain financial markets have fueled a surge in demand for precious metals, and Alaska companies that deal in gold are reaping the benefits.

“It’s a gold rush,” said Jim Madonna, a retired University of Alaska Fairbanks instructor who now runs a shop selling metal detectors, pans, sluice boxes, picks and just about anything else to help find gold in the Alaska wilderness.

Interest in gold has surged as prices have pushed toward $1,800 per ounce. And even as prices have stabilized, there’s still interest among gold-seekers in Fairbanks.

“The last year and half has just been crazy,” said Bob Curry, general manager at Oxford Assaying and Refining in Fairbanks, which buys gold from prospectors and sells it customers.

Curry said he’s having trouble keeping enough gold in stock to satisfy demand.

The high price of gold can’t be linked to a single factor, Curry said, but to a variety of causes including the value of currency, market sentiment and demand for the product.

People especially look to gold when financial markets get shaky, he said.

“It’s a good safe for a lot of people to put their money,” Curry said. “You physically own something, you can pull it out and look at it. With stock you have to find someone else to buy it to convert it into money, but with gold you can go into any coin shop and you can usually get rid of it.”

Experts warn that it’s not easy to strike it rich in gold. Making money takes experience.

Still, to many hopefuls, there’s something exciting about the idea of striking it rich on a lucky gold find.

North Pole resident Ronald Bingham, 40, stopped by a gold shop recently to stock up on supplies before heading on a weekend trip with his wife. He doesn’t plan on striking it rich, but it wouldn’t hurt, he said.

“We’re just going up to play around, have fun and learn something,” Bingham said. “But gold is going up and you may never know, we might just find a nugget.”

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