Sunday, October 16, 2011 6:51 PM EDT By Erica Schmitt, Staff Writer
BRISTOL — Outfitted in their Be a Rockhound shirts, members of the Bristol Gem & Mineral Club shared treasures of every shape, size and color Sunday. Their 39th Annual Gem & Mineral Show was a magnet for Boy Scouts, families, and nature enthusiasts.
Local gem stones, rocks, minerals, fossils and meteorites were for sale, along with those from around the world — most commonly China, Brazil and Russia. Some were on display in their raw form. Others were transformed into intricate pieces of jewelry.
“The shape reflects the arrangement of elements inside,” said club president and Bristol resident Dave Korzendorfer, describing the chalcolite in his hands from Bristol’s Copper mine. Yes, there are gemstones and minerals in abundance in Connecticut, you just have to have permission to hammer and chisel your way to them.
“Connecticut has a huge variety of different minerals to collect,” Korzendorfer said. “Prehnite is fairly common here, because basalt forms in the state’s traprock ridges.”
Formerly a mining exploration geologist, Korzendorfer has a master’s in geology from Washington State University and travels everywhere to discover what lies beneath the ground. He helped identify specimens brought in by visitors at the show.
Once you start, it’s hard to stop plundering for jewels, or more fairly, rockhounding. Korzendorfer knows that well.
“Once you collect and find something really neat, you get hooked,” he said.
He and the 300 other members of the club have a claim in Herkimer, New York to dig for Herkimer “diamonds,” which are diamond-like crystals in the region. “The number of places available to the public are not many,” he said. “The state requires a permit to collect.”
If you’re interested in collecting, you can join the club. Clubs carry the liability insurance and permit that most state landowners require rockhounds to have.
The state mineral of Connecticut is garnet, but because the geology here is diverse, Connecticut has an array of different minerals, including beryl (aquamarine and emerald) and scheelite, which the show had in large quantity and high quality.
About 50 club members meet at the Bristol Senior Center monthly to learn from each other and plan outings. They go on trips during gem-hunting season (April through October) and do about eight rock shows a year. They also help schools with science projects and loan out rocks for use in the classroom.
The club is hoping to open up a lapidary center at the Barnes Nature Center on Shrub Road in Bristol, where members can cut their rocks into slabs and shape and polish minerals as they wish.
“It’s a wonderful hobby. It’s amazing what you can collect, there are so many things out there that are so beautiful,” said Winsted resident Melvie Hatfield, whose passion is fossils. She was selling,among many other specimens, fossilized alligator feces from South Carolina and a mosasaur tooth from Morocco, both from the Jurassic period.
The show helped the rock buffs raise funds for their field trips, but was also a way to pick up new recruits.
“We want to get these little guys excited and interested; it keeps our club growing and keeps us vibrant,” said Manchester resident and geologist Paul Martell as he gave away free mineral samples to children seeking answers to their scavenger hunt questionnaire, one of the kids’ activities of the day. They also enjoyed a ‘Make your own stone animal’ table and the chance to split plaster to find gems hidden inside.
One of those young aficionados was Bristol resident Gabriel Bartolome, 9, a Cub Scout with Pack 425. “I like gems, I find them interesting,” said Bartolome, accompanied by his mom Dawn and 3-year-old sister Kathryn.
Bristol club members come from all over Connecticut — as far as Pomfret, Stamford and Trumbull. Guilford resident Bob Schuster is a mineral fanatic. “We have members who make their own jewelry, and others who do it because they just like getting fresh air and hiking through the woods,” Schuster said.
The club’s next trip is Oct. 29 at Green’s Farm Garnet Mine in Roxbury, Anyone interested is welcome to show up.
The three best treasure-hunting quarries in the state are Haddam’s CCC Quarry, Clark Hill in East Hampton, and Case Quarry in Portland. Bristol Gem & Mineral Club has access to all three and many knowledgeable people to help you navigate the world of lapidary. To join, go to bristolgem.org.