With the price of gold increasing worldwide, hundreds are flocking to the shores of Nome for what's amounting to a second gold rush, more than 100 years after the original gold rush that gave birth to Nome, transforming it into a bustling town.
Ken Scott, a commercial diver from Thibodaux, Louisiana, is one of the Outsiders who found the possibility of instant riches in Nome too hard to resist.
“I’m up here to have some fun, and If I find some gold, that will make it more pleasurable,” said Scott.
Last week, as Scott prepared his dredger -- just delivered off the barge in Nome -- he lamented the dreary, cloudy summer weather overhead.
“Back in Louisiana, my wife said it was like 94 degrees,” Scott said. “This is like a Louisiana winter!”
Scott has been in Alaska for all of 10 days or so, and hundreds of other hopefuls have also recently made their way to Nome, some arriving just last week.
In the 1899, Nome found itself in an even bigger gold-driven boom, with thousands of miners arriving in just one summer, transforming the once-unknown village practically overnight.
Mitch Erickson of Nome Gold Alaska sees a lot of similarities between Nomes original gold rush and what’s happening today.
Laura Samuelson with the Carrie McClain Memorial Museum in Nome says in the 1890s, there was a worldwide recession, just before the big gold rush, prompted by the dreams of ordinary people to make big bucks.
"What did we have in 2008? A recession," Erickson said.
Erickson saw the writing on the wall, and set up a campsite for miners who come up to Alaska with dreams in their hearts, but no roof over their heads. He counts different tents in the campground, pointing out their wide-ranging home states. They come from New Jersey, California, Minnesota and Washington.
“It’s a sense of adventure, and a good opportunity to make a good amount of money in a small amount of time,” said Colby Engstrom from Seattle. He’s one of the people on Erickson’s campground.
Many dredgers admit they don’t know if they’ll break even, especially if it’s their first year dredging in Nome. In the end, it may only be the thrill of the possibility, not the actual money, that’s attracting so many to Nome’s shores once again.
“Who’s going to deny somebody a chance at an adventure of a lifetime?” Erickson said.
“If we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t have come,” Engstrom said. “A lot of us would be working 9-to-5 jobs, a lot of us have done that for a long time.”
Still, long-time dredgers in Nome say most of the newcomers are too naive, and have no idea about all the work that’s ahead of them.
“They don’t seem to respect the knowledge of the old-timers,” said Bob Hafner, who has been dredging in Nome for 20 years. “These new people come up here, they look at our dredges, they copy our dredges, and they think, ‘Oh, this is really easy to do.”
In reality, weather conditions can often get in the way, limiting the amount of time people can be actively dredging for gold out in the Bering Sea.
“In the last couple of days we haven’t been working because the waves have been up, we’ve had a pretty good south wind,” Hafner said.
That south wind can create poor visibility and waves that make it impossible to dredge on a boat.
Engstrom, one of the new dredgers, says with the way his boat is constructed, he’ll be able to withstand a lot of that bad weather.
“Once we get in the water we plan on operating 24 hours a day,” Engstrom said.
Hafner says that kind of outlook is just not realistic.
“It’s fun to see this youthful exuberance in the business, and these grandeur ideas of ‘we’re going to run the dredge 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,’” Hafner said. “Unfortunately, the reality is -- a good example is June of last year -- I think I dived six or 10 hours the whole month of June.”
Some Nome natives say they don’t like the impact that the influx of miners has had on their once-familiar town.
“I don’t know everybody in Nome anymore, I used to know everybody,” said Sherry Kulukhon, who has lived in Nome all her life. “Now we see people, and they don’t even say ‘hi.’”
Others opt to find gold in Nome using an entirely different method than offshore dredging. Some use devices called high bankers that are placed on shore to find their gold.
Chick Trainor is a Nome local who has been high banking for decades. He calls his method more reliable that dredging offshore, pointing out to the dreary weather at sea that’s prevented his dredging counterparts from working last week.
“On a day like this, these dredgers can’t be out here, it’s too murky, they can’t see what they’re doing,” Trainor said. “I can go on the beach rain or shine.”
But no matter what the method people use, the lure of striking it rich in Nome will likely continue. And many would argue that you can’t blame the people that want their chance at an instant fortune, in a place where legend has it, the streets are paved with gold.
Watch part two of Jason Lamb's report from Nome, "Gold Fever, Reignited," Wednesday on the Channel 2 Newshour.