Canal treasure hunters find little more than mud

You might call them muckrakers.

Since the Augusta Canal was drained last week for a construction project, throngs of visitors have been poking around in the weeds and mud in search of treasure.

"Everyone is curious to see what it looks like in its nonfilled state," said Rebecca Rogers, the Augusta Canal Authority's marketing director.

During the weekend, remarkably warm weather attracted even more visitors to the naked channel, some of whom brought metal detectors, rakes and prodding sticks.

If there is any treasure to be found, though, Mrs. Rogers hasn't seen it.

"To my knowledge, there have been no big 'finds' along the canal so far, just the unfortunate modern-day debris we expected: shopping carts, tires, a car, and -- sorry about this -- newspaper vending machines."

One reason the channel isn't yielding much in the way of artifacts is that many have already been removed.

"One of the first times it was drained was in '71 or '72 -- from the Lake Olmstead gates down -- and us bottle collectors had a wonderful time," said Bill Baab, a lifelong bottle collector and author of a book on historic bottles of Augusta.

Although the current draining of the canal's upper channel to the headgates is the first in decades, the lower canal was completely drained as recently as 2000, when contractors spent 10 weeks dredging hundreds of tons of silt and mud from the areas above and below Butt Memorial Bridge.

If you find something valuable in the canal, do you get to keep it? The answer is: maybe.

"I wish I could tell you what the finders-keepers rule it, but I don't have one," Mrs. Rogers said.

Some activities, however, are clearly unacceptable.

Park Ranger Brian Edmonds, for example, found some visitors loading an entire truckload of creek rocks from one of the spillway areas.

"A sheriff's deputy was called and they were told to unload the truck and put it all back," she said.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.