FINDLEY LAKE - Just one block up from Findley Lake on Route 430 lies the Town of Dry Gulch Gemstone Mine - an off-the-road attraction that has been a labor of love for more than 30 years for designer and builder Bill Marlette, better known as ''Sheriff Bill.''
Far back in the woods, complete with secret trails, a spring-fed gold trough, a miniature town and working railroad, there is much more to the Town of Dry Gulch than people see as they zip by on the highway during their travels.
''You just can't see it from the road,'' Sheriff Bill said. ''Many people just drive by and see the two stores on the property, (and) they figure that it's all contained on either side of the store.''
Located at 10516 Route 430 in Findley Lake, the Town of Dry Gulch Gemstone Mine provides small-group tours, birthday parties and field trips seven days a week.
In reality, the gem mine portion of the Town of Dry Gulch is tucked away from the road, part of acres of trails that are completely fenced in and kid-friendly. Also only available to those willing to explore are a museum, a black-light rock display (where the old miner, Fuzzy, lives) and a cave of Wild West critters including snakes, iguanas, tarantulas, bats and birds.
Some of the most fun comes from the opportunity to explore and dig in the gemstone mine itself, where there are over one million genuine gems, shark's teeth, quartz crystals, arrowheads, fossils, pieces of precious metals and more to be found. Everything is real, and it's all ''finders, keepers.''
Sheriff Bill said that he first built the gem mine more than 30 years ago as an idea to keep kids out of trouble while their mothers were busy with other errands and tasks. Now, a full generation later, he sees those kids as adults, bringing their own children back to the Town of Dry Gulch.
''It's funny when they introduce themselves and ask if I remember them from 20 or 30 years ago,'' Sheriff Bill said. ''It's hard enough to keep up with the 5,000 to 6,000 newcomers that I see out here each season.''
The Town of Dry Gulch hosts numerous small- and large-group outings each year, from birthday parties to school field trips. Sheriff Bill said that parents and teachers thank him throughout the season from providing the tactile throwback to a simpler time when kids had fun playing outside in the dirt, not indoors in front of a television or a computer screen.
''My feelings are simple,'' Sheriff Bill said. ''Take an interest in a child as if they were my own, give the kids some free reign, and let them wear themselves out by going up and down the trails.''
Sheriff Bill said in addition to showing kids he has an interest in what they are doing and providing basic interaction, he plans to continue each season to build new an exciting displays with the Town of Dry Gulch - ''do all of that, and they just keep wanting to come back,'' he said.
Located at 10516 Route 430 in Findley Lake, the Town of Dry Gulch Gemstone Mine provides small-group tours, birthday parties and field trips seven days a week. Due to an overwhelming demand for these scheduled events, the mine does not accommodate for walk-ins. But it just takes a few kids to constitute a small group - just five to nine miners.
More information and rates are available online at www.townofdrygulch.com or by calling Sheriff Bill at 769-9888.