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Dahlonegas Gold Rush Days grows as it provides money for good causes
Chris Smith prepares funnel cakes at the Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega Saturday. - photo by Tom Reed

Locals and visitors had the opportunity to mine for gold and grab some fall festival treats this past weekend at the annual Gold Rush Days.

Melinda Maxwell, a member of the Dahlonega Jaycees and the chairperson for Gold Rush Days, said that Gold Rush Days began more than 50 years ago to commemorate Dahlonega being the site of America’s first gold rush.

The event, she said, has gotten huge over the years, and it tells people about the history of the Dahlonega area.

“Especially now with all of the technology, kids don’t have a concept of how things used to be,” Maxwell said. “Some people have living grandparents and great-grandparents that will pass down stories, but to actually be able to interact and see it and participate is something that kids can take with them forever.”

One thing that many people in Dahlonega have in common is that Gold Rush Days is a tradition that must be attended every year.

“I remember as a child looking forward to Gold Rush like Georgia fans look forward to the Georgia vs. Florida game,” Maxwell said. “It was the event of the year and everyone in town came out and so many people came from all over.”

Maxwell said the event features activities for all ages.

“There is definitely a craft that applies to everyone, and there are so many things for children to do,” she said. “I had a blast going to it while I was growing up, so it is really cool to be an integral part of it now.”

Maxwell has a 9-month-old son named Nolan who she is looking forward to bringing to Gold Rush Days in the future.

“I can’t wait for him to run around and eat cotton candy and ride the ponies,” she said.

Admission to the event was free, but all money raised through purchases at Gold Rush Days and parking fees goes to help the local community.

“The Empty Stocking Fund is our biggest contribution,” Maxwell said. “At Christmas, the local school counselors and the community help find families in need, and we buy the children clothing and toys and groceries for the family.”

Maxwell said the number of families the Jaycees are able to help increases every year.

“With these hard economic times, we have had way more need in this community,” she said. “All of the people here with the Dahlonega Jaycees are volunteers, and we spend all year getting ready for this event to raise money in order to help the local people who need it, and that is what keeps us coming back — God has blessed us beyond what is imaginable.”

The Jaycees also make donations to other local organizations on a smaller scale, such as school supplies fund drives and school book fairs. The organization also gives out six to eight $1,000 scholarships to local high school students.

“We are also often contacted when people have needs — when someone’s mother dies or their husband is disabled and then they break their ankle and they’re out of work — we will help them with anything,” Maxwell said.

On Saturday, among arts and crafts exhibitors, a huge parade and plenty of good food, there also was a unique fashion show for kids.

“Children were dressed in old-time clothing, and they competed in a fashion show,” Maxwell said. “It was neat to see the little bonnets and boys in their knickers.”

Maxwell said people also participated in a crosscut saw contest in which a team of two people used an old two-handled saw and completed to see who could saw through a log fastest.

On Sunday, there were clogging performances and an amateur clogging contest as well as wrist wrestling.

Tori Bookmiller, 15, and Brittany Bookmiller, 12, were two of the young girls helping out over the weekend.

“We give out the trophies and the medals to winners of events, and we did the children’s treasure hunt, and we run errands and answer questions,” Brittany said.

This year, Hop Smith was in charge of the gold panning and gem mining. Smith owns Rocky Hop in Dahlonega, which is an American Wholesale outlet for a wide selection of polished rocks and gem stones.

He said people could purchase a bag of sand with gem stones and use a screen to shake out the gemstones, which they could then take home.

For more information on Gold Rush Days, The Empty Stocking Fund and scholarship opportunities through the Dahlonega Jaycees, visit

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