Va. relic hunters warned to steer clear of National Parks

Posted at 9:00 PM, Apr 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-04 21:00:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- With reality shows promoting the lucrative and fun act of relic hunting, the hobby is becoming more popular with casual archaeologists.

But park officials are warning folks to watch out where they dig for history since there are some places in Richmond where those spades and metal detectors are strictly forbidden.

At Gaines' Mill Battlefield in Hanover all visitors are welcome to enjoy the past: they just can’t steal it.

“We take it very seriously it is protected for the people who fought and died here,” National Park Ranger Tim Mauch said.

Gaines' Mill is the site of one of the biggest engagements in the Civil War where 15,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. If you walk the park, you’ll notice disturbed ground that may be a sign of illegal activity.

Relic hunters pilfering history at National Parks is a federal crime and U.S. park rangers like Mauch are ready to prosecute.

“We've had times where people dressed in camouflage have come and sneaked onto the park,” Mauch said.

If you steal history from a federally owned park it could cost you. If convicted you could pay with your money and time.

“If they are caught they can be fined up to $10,000 and a year in jail or both,” Mauch said.

Tony Rosso, a Civil War buff from Yorktown, enjoys exploring Virginia’s battlefields and is troubled at the holes he saw.

“These holes look a little suspicious. I think it looks like somebody was digging,” Rosso said.

Rosso contends when a crook robs bullets, buttons and buckles from National Battlefields, we all lose.

“Leave it alone and let it rest like the bodies here who died here,” Rosso he said. “It's a place to come to where the history has been preserved. They are stealing from the American people and destroying sacred ground.”

Mauch said that small souvenir could mean big trouble. In fact, in 2007 two Virginia men were convicted of metal detecting and digging on a Spotsylvania National Battlefield. The pair were sentenced to two years in prison and heavily fined.

A battlefield expert inspected the holes found at Gaines' Mill and thinks it was not the work of criminals, but animals. But he worries next time it might not be a false alarm.