2017-02-23 / Life in Leelanau

Rock hunters flock to county beaches

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


RALPH AND BONNIE Hommel, of Cedar, take a walk on Good Harbor Beach on Sunday. Bonnie, a self-professed rockhound can’t help but look for pretty stones, even though she knows she can’t take any home. RALPH AND BONNIE Hommel, of Cedar, take a walk on Good Harbor Beach on Sunday. Bonnie, a self-professed rockhound can’t help but look for pretty stones, even though she knows she can’t take any home. Julie Austin says that on average she spends up to 12 hours per week on area beaches collecting rocks.

For the Bingham Township resident, it’s an activity that never gets old.

“I could spend all day there,” Austin said. “And it’s the one thing you can do that doesn’t cost anything. It’s relaxing, it’s fun and you just never know what you’re going to come across.”

While many people display the rocks and stones and pebbles they’ve collected in jars placed around their homes and cottages, many, like Austin, have made a living out of it.

Austin makes bird baths, stepping stones and plaques out of the stones she picks up for her Garden Accents business.


LUKE AND MARGIE Matheson and their children, of Toledo, collect pretty stones from Van’s Beach in Leland for the jewelry Margie makes. LUKE AND MARGIE Matheson and their children, of Toledo, collect pretty stones from Van’s Beach in Leland for the jewelry Margie makes. She and her husband Joe Nedow then cart them around to art fairs, craft shows and festivals held around the state from spring right up through Christmas.

Austin finds her stones on Leland beaches, at Christmas Cove, in Charlevoix and at various beaches in the Upper Peninsula. While Nedow is always on the lookout for a particular stone — a Petoskey or a Leland Bluestone — Austin just looks for colorful stones that catch her eye.

“They’re all beautiful,” she said. “It just depends on what your eye picks out.”

Leelanau’s rock hounds were out in force over the weekend, when warm temperatures and sunny skies provided the perfect excuse for hitting area beaches. Spring — or an unusually warm late winter — is the best time to look for Petoskeys, when melting ice brings them into shallower water.


JENNY WHITE, of Holland, sifts through pebbles at Van’s Beach in Leland, hoping to find a Petoskey or a Leland Bluestone. JENNY WHITE, of Holland, sifts through pebbles at Van’s Beach in Leland, hoping to find a Petoskey or a Leland Bluestone. For Bonnie Hommel collecting rocks is just a hobby and she uses what she finds for decorating picture frames and other crafts.

Hommel and her husband Ralph were at Good Harbor Beach on Sunday, where they were just enjoying the nice weather. As part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, no rocks can be taken from Good Harbor or from any beaches in the National Park.

“We can’t pick up stones here, but we can at the county beaches,” Hommel said.

She has yet to find a Leland Bluestone.

Leland Bluestone is a byproduct of the iron smelting that went on from 1870 to 1885 by the Leland Lake Superior Iron Company. It is made from the cooled impurities separated from iron during the smelting process and can only be found on Leland’s beaches.

For Toledo, Ohio, resident Margie Matheson, scouring Van’s Beach for Petoskeys and other colorful stones is a regular part of every visit to her parents’ Leland home.

Matheson and her husband Luke, her sister and brother-in-law Jenny and Brad White of Holland and their combined seven children were all out on Sunday looking for stones that might look pretty as a necklace or pair of earrings.

Like many, Matheson makes jewelry with the stones she finds on the beach, jewelry that she sells every year at the Leland art fair.

And if they happened to find a Leland Bluestone or a Petoskey, all the better.

“My mom has bags of Leland Blue because she lives here,” Matheson said.

Anthony Curtis lives in Florida now, but was raised in the Traverse City area. Curtis collects mostly rocks native to Michigan to make his jewelry, but is an avid collector of Leland Bluestone.

Curtis started his rockhounding at the age of 7, when he and his grandfather would find Petoskeys in the gravel at the East Silver Lake Road boat launch, especially after it rained, when the stones would pop out.

His love for Bluestone started later.

“I just kind of stumbled upon them by chance,” said Curtis.

What’s his secret for finding them?

“That’s kind of the million dollar question,” he said.

He did some research and now has a couple of “hot spots,” he said, including a private residence where the property owner has more than enough of the unique stone.

The woman now lets Curtis collect them. In return, he has made her several pieces of jewelry, he said.

Curtis remembers several years ago when the parking lot of the Leland Harbor was torn up, revealing a cache of Leland Blue.

“There was kind of a mass hysteria of people getting down there and getting as much as they could before the new lot was paved,” he said.

Austin said that in recent years there seem to be a lot more people collecting stones.

“Every time I go to the beach there are serious rock hounds,” she said. “They’re wading in the water and they have these tubes that pick them up ... I guess it’s gotten a lot more popular.”

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