The quiet state of the Last Frontier was transformed by the Gold Rush which occurred towards the end of the 19th century. While the 'Rush' is long gone, its remnants still dot the landscape.
The really big influx of miners came in the 1890's to mine the Klondike and Nome areas, although gold was discovered a couple decades earlier in southeastern Alaska and the Harris Mining District near Juneau still supports mining to this day, . At the end of the century, prospectors flooded in by steamship - both to the ports at Skagway and Valdez - then made long, treacherous treks to their mining destinations.
Gold spawned the construction of many new towns that were necessary to support the transport of materials and supplies, along with the gold, to and from the Interior mining locations. Such towns include Talkeetna, Fairbanks, Hope and Wasilla, to name a few.
Various methods of mining were used which depended upon the location and the wealth of the miner. Panning is likely the most well-known method and most used by the small miner during this timeframe. A 'sluice box' was another method which is, essentially, panning -- just on a large scale! It consists of laying large boxes in rivers and allowing the water to flow over the box. Due to it's design, gold and other metals would be trapped and settle to the bottom of the box.
'Rockers' were also used...a sort of hopper device that would typically take two men to operate - one to load and one to rock. Placed on a gradual slope, the rocker would be filled with gravel, then water would be poured while shaking or rocking the device to separate out, through a screen, any particles.
'Dredging' was the method that has left its mark on the landscape of Alaska. Dredging incorporated a continuous line of dredging buckets (see photo below) that would haul the mud and gravel from the water to an area where particles were separated.
Many of these methods are still used to this day and much information is available on the topic. Individuals adventurous and patient enough still have many untouched acres of Frontier to tap into.
At the time of this article, a proposal is in place to build Pebble Mine near Nondalton and Iliamna - where a recent strike shows it to possibly be the biggest supply yet. Its value is estimated at over $100 billion, coming primarily from gold, copper and molybdenum.
Located on state land, this controversial project has yet to come to fruition as it is said that it would severely impact the fish and fishing industries in that area. Iliamna Lake lies just northwest of Bristol Bay -- the location of one of the largest runs of salmon in the world along with the largest sockeye salmon fisheries in the world. However, those in support of the mining operation claim that it can be done without harm to the fish. It is noteworthy to mention that Senator Ted Stevens has shown opposition to the project. Many investigations need to be done before the proposal can be approved.