The city has quietly expelled treasure-hunting hobbyists from Prospect Park — but the metal-detecting motley crew is fighting to get back inside to search for the riches buried there.
For 13 years, hundreds of detectorists, as they call themselves, could obtain permits to dig in places like Prospect and Van Cortlandt parks. The only requirement was that they refilled their divots.
But last May, city officials banned such treasure hunting after Prospect Park keepers allegedly observed and photographed one metalhead leaving craters — even after being confronted by groundskeepers.
“Our groundsperson found enormous divots,” said Tupper Thomas, president of the Prospect Park Alliance, an organization with split governmental and nonprofit roles. (The Alliance declined to provide the incriminating photographs, however.)
But the detectorists say banning them from Prospect Park is an attack on their rights to use public space.
“The Prospect Park administrator has looked upon the metal detecting hobbyist as unlawful and without ethics. This is simply not true!” Carter Pennington, a regular metal hunter, wrote to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe last month.
“It is an unfortunate ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to ban all who enjoy the hobby of metal detecting from Prospect Park.”
Pennington said the city should not have abandoned the permitting system, which gave 357 individuals the right to scour designated parks (though not the supposed crown jewel of the emerald empire, Central Park).
Instead, the miscreant should have been issued a summons and lost his privileges to find spare change, dropped house keys and, sometimes, an artifact of actual value.
Treasure-hunting is not suited for the impatient or the delusional. Detectionists can walk hours without a blip or a bleep indicating that it’s time to start mining.
Hitting the jackpot for these guys means finding an Indian Head penny or a buffalo nickel. They also go nuts for military relics like bullets, buttons from uniforms and musket balls from the Revolutionary War-era Battle of Brooklyn.
Park boosters sympathized with both sides.
“The number one thing is that you don’t want the landscape destroyed,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “But if it’s minimally invasive, it should be fine. It’s something many people enjoy doing.”
Most metal seekers might have a negligible impact, but Thomas suggested that she simply doesn’t have enough manpower to keep an eye on all the detectorists, as well as golfers and mountain bikers who sometimes run roughshod over the park.
“I don’t have a lot of enforcement,” she told The Brooklyn Paper. “If I had more park officers, we could just throw offenders out.”
The perceived snub from the city plays upon lingering insecurities among some members of the metal-hunting community, the ranks of which tend to be filled by older men, many of them retired, interested in history and looking to stay active, who feel their hobby is disrespected.
“It’s kind of unfair, but we’ve been treated this way for years,” said Bill, a digger who did not want to share his last name, though he posed for our photographer.