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Boy Scout Caleb Rayburn, 14, built a replica of a mining sluice box in Jacksonville’s French Gulch with the aid of other scouts as part of his Eagle Scout project.

A Boy Scout's creation revives mining history

JACKSONVILLE — A replica of a mining sluice box constructed in French Gulch will help hikers appreciate the scale of a hydraulic gold-mining operation that operated there for seven decades. More mining equipment will be added to recreate a scene that was no longer typical after 1943.

Boy Scout Caleb Rayburn, 14, completed the replica with the aid of other scouts, leaders and local businesses as part of his Eagle Scout project. Larry Smith, executive director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association, had suggested the project. "We found a picture of the sluice box that was there before. It was run by the Petard family," said Rayburn. "We just wanted to replicate that as best as possible."

While the original sluice box covered a distance of 135 feet, the replica consists of four 16-foot-long sections with gaps in between. This allows a trail to wind its way through the re-creation.

A new sign with artwork at the site explains how the sluice box worked.

Water from a two-mile-long ditch that started at Jackson Creek was impounded behind a small dam. Pipes from the dam led to a hydraulic water cannon, called a monitor. A water stream was directed up the gulch, and rocks and dirt were washed down the sluice box. Mud trapped in cleats in the sluice box was collected at the end of a work day and panned for gold flakes.

Constructed of 2-by-12-inch, rough-cut cedar planks, the sluice boxes were screwed together before putty was put over the screw heads. Square-head nails, as used in earlier times, were then pounded into the box.

"It's just extra support and makes sure it looks more like the one in the pictures," said Rayburn.

The boxes are about a foot wide and 10 inches deep. They are suspended on 2-by-4 boards that are placed in the ground in concrete.

Rayburn oversaw all phases of the construction and installation, which took about 120 hours. He was aided by nine scouts and three leaders from Jacksonville Troop 17. Rayburn secured donations of lumber and supplies from Budget Lumber of Medford and Lowe's.

Rayburn has one more task to accomplish, a presentation on his effort to become an Eagle Scout, before he receives the honor. He will be a freshman at South Medford High School this fall.

"It's a gorgeous project," said Smith. His organization, in cooperation with the city, Bureau of Land Management and others, has preserved 20 open woodlands areas and created eight miles of trails in and around Jacksonville since 1989.

A recent $12,500 bequest from the estate of Bob and Ruth Root will allow the group to add more mining equipment at the French Gulch site.

Smith returned Monday from Grass Valley, Calif., with a monitor and 160-year-old pipe that was manufactured there. The monitor was cobbled together from others and cost $1,200, about half the price of an historic one, said Smith.

"We'll install all the pipe through the original holes up there (in the dam)," said Smith. Pipe will then be connected to the monitor by the sluice.

Visitors can find the sluice box by parking at the end of Fir Street behind Britt Park. A one-mile hike south on the Rich Gulch Trail leads to a junction that connects to French Gulch. For more information, see the Woodlands Association website at www.jvwoodlands.org.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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