Let's play the Gold Rush Game. Californians have been playing it, one way or another, young and old, since the first gold nuggets were dug up in our state 150 years ago.
Back in those days, folks acquired wealth with a gold pan, a shovel and, very often, by moving boundary markers in the night and filing false claims to their neighbor's gold mine.
This Sunday at Leo Carrillo State Park, you can find out what it was like to be involved in the original Gold Rush. The event, part of the State Sesquicentennial Celebration, is designed for family participation, but mainly intended for kids 9 and older.
Park Ranger Jim Holt will begin with a demonstration of gold panning and then introduce players to a game, rather like an outdoor version of Monopoly, where you take possession of your property.
An area of the park will become the scene of a miniature gold rush. Each participant will get a little printed "mining claim" in the form of a certificate imprinted with a dollar value.
Unlike the venerable board game, Holt's version doesn't start out with everybody financially equal--and you can choose to keep your wealth a secret.
Players on Sunday will have to cope with unexpected "claim jumpers," steer clear of "gambling dens" and figure out whether to use their money to buy more mining claims or buy into businesses like clothiers or grocers. Yes, these are allusions to such businesses as Levi Strauss, and MJB Coffee Co., which were founded in California during the Gold Rush.
"The little miners will be introduced to gambling opportunities, such as the original 'shell game,' in which the chances of winning are not good," Holt explained.
Parents, he expects, will be astute enough to catch the tricks that shell-game operators use to cheat players, but should say nothing until after Holt reveals the scam--thus providing the children a more memorable life lesson.
The gold-panning demonstration prior to the game will take place on the bank of a creek at Carrillo State Park. Historically, there was no gold discovered on the Ventura-Los Angeles County line where it touches the Pacific.
This did happen, however, on the county line near Santa Clarita in 1842. But there wasn't enough in the ground to cause a gold rush. Amounts necessary to cause a stampede weren't found until two years later--in a river above Sacramento in 1848.
"Here in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, our 'gold' came in the form of oranges," Holt pointed out. "We made lots of money by shipping the miners our mission-grown citrus, which they needed to keep from dying of scurvy."
Holt has created his own local version of the Gold Rush Game being conducted at several state parks during the Sesquicentennial Celebration. From watching games played at other sites, he's noted: "Somebody will end up the wealthiest. Kids will quickly become aware [of this goal] and figure out that players who get into commerce are winning the game."
"The Gold Rush Game," a chance to participate in gold panning, prospecting, boom-town gambling, etc., suitable for families (but mostly for kids, 9 and up), Sunday, 3:30 p.m. Free. Leo Carrillo State Park. Meet at entrance kiosk, Pacific Coast Highway at Mulholland Highway. (310) 457-8142.
Also--The program will be repeated March 28 at Point Mugu State Park and it's possible for school groups to book a special presentation of this game on other days. Call the number above.