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A brief history of the world-class Donlin Creek gold deposit


Last updated 2/22/2009 at Noon

The discovery story of the multimillion-ounce gold deposit at Donlin Creek began in 1909 when prospectors rushed through the region following news that gold had been discovered on the George River about 50 miles to the southwest. For the next 25 years, hand and hydraulic placer mining continued on Donlin Creek in Southwest Alaska.

In 1941 Robert Lyman started the modern era of placer mining on Donlin Creek. Signing away his entire winter salary, the hardworking miner put a down payment on a HD-10 Allis Chalmers tractor and a Gould pump marking the first mechanized placer operations on the creek. Lyman, the second-largest placer gold producer in the Kuskokwim region, continued his operation until 1956.

The first hint of the lode source of the Donlin Creek placers surfaced in 1955 by United States Geological Survey geologist, W.H. Cady. During his mapping and geological survey of the central Kuskokwim region of Southwest Alaska, Cady noted rhyolitic dikes that later led to further interest in the lode source at Donlin.

When Calista Corp. was formed as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, it selected the land covering the Donlin Creek deposit as part of its settlement.

Calista hired Resources Associates of Alaska to survey its lands for mineral potential. In 1974 the geological firm found gold bearing quartz veins at Donlin. Returning the following year, Resource Associates found gold values ranging from 2 ppm to 20 ppm in trenches dug at the prospect.

While early hints of lode potential were being investigated above Donlin Creek, Robert Lyman's sons -following in their father's footsteps - had returned to mine the placers in the valley below. The Lyman heirs mined another decade before interest once again returned to the lode source of the Donlin Creek placers.

The worlds of the Donlin Creek placer miners and the explorers for the lode source converged in 1986. That year Calista's newly hired lead geologist, Bruce Hickok, and his former partner, Rob Retherford, went to Donlin to follow up on Resource Associates' earlier findings.

Hickok and Retherford's investigation confirmed the soil anomalies discovered a decade earlier. While the pair was scouring the hills, the Lyman brothers were drilling a bench above Donlin Creek in search of additional placers. When the Lymans discovered silvery clay they called on the geologists to take a look. The arsenopyrite laden clay convinced the geologists that Donlin Creek deserved further investigation.

The following year, WestGold began exploring what would become one of the world's largest known gold deposits.



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