Where is it Legal to Metal Detect?
By Lee Wiese
This question should be easy to answer but that is not the case. There are
no uniform state laws or regulations across the fifty states or are there
uniform municipal codes for the many thousands of cities and counties in the
U.S. One way to get a handle on laws and regulations for your area is to
join a local metal detecting or gold prospecting club. These clubs will
usually know what the local law and regulation situation is for the hobby.
So lets take one section of the U.S. at a time and try to find some answers.
There are a number of federal acts that
control what can or can not be done on federal properties. These acts are
Each of these acts places protection for America's antiquities plus use
restrictions on federal lands, historical sites and Native American Indian
The 1906 and the 1997
acts have an impact on the
National Park System, National Monuments, National Sea Shore Beaches, Civil
& Revolutionary War Battlefields, and to some extend on Native American
lands. These acts indirectly make metal detecting illegal in any of these
places. If caught metal detecting or have a detector in your possession
while on any of these protected places it can be a felony with tough
A typical statement on a National Monument websites is: Metal detectors are
strictly prohibited on park grounds. Relic hunting by the use of metal
detectors or other means is prohibited and violators will be prosecuted.
Park rangers enforce a number of federal regulations in the park,
including the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36 (36 CFR), and the United
States Code, Titles 16, 18 and 21.Within 36 CFR, park superintendents are
granted the right to make park-specific regulations.
36 CFR 2.1 (7) Possessing or using a mineral or metal detector,
magnetometer, side scan sonar, other metal detecting device, or sub-bottom
16 U.S.C. Section 1c defines the National Park System as"...any area of land
and water now or hereafter administrated by the Secretary of the Interior
through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway,
recreational or other purposes."
The 1966 act
is the mechanism by which historical
sites can be preserved by adding them to the National Register of Historic
Places. Once a site is added to the National Register three acts above
(1966,1997,1990 acts) can be applied to protect the properties. The 1966 act
also provides for the setup of historical sites at the state level. Once
historical sites are placed on the national or state historical register;
them the sites are no longer available for metal detecting of any kind.
The 1990 act
covers just about everything that has
anything to do with, native American remains, burial sites, and associated
. The Forest Service does permits the use of recreational metal
detecting and the collection of rocks and mineral samples. Generally, most
of the National Forests are open to recreational mineral and rock
collecting, gold panning and metal detecting. This activity usually does not
require any authorization. It is always wise to check with the local
district ranger to ensure that the land you are going to detect does not
contain archaeological or historical resource.
National Forest Regulation
of Land Management
-BLM. Most areas of BLM lands are open for use of
metal detecting with the exception of historical sites. You should contact
the local BLM district office for information to find out the areas that are
Bureau Of Reclamation
. Metal detecting is prohibited.
Federal Code 423.29 (f-1&2)
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
§327.14 Public property metal detector use. The use of metal
detectors is permitted on designated beaches or other previously disturbed
lands unless prohibited by the district commander to protect archaeological,
historical and paleontological resources.
Each state has laws that are modeled after
the national acts making state lands regulated similarly to national lands.
Generally, all state historical sites, state Native American burial grounds,
and other state archaeological sites are off limits to metal detecting.
- State Parks
. However, most states have regulations that determine
the legality of metal detecting in their state park system. These
regulations usually either allow or disallow metal detects or provide
specific information as to where metal detecting can take place.
Check this web-link for specific state regulations
Some states require permits, while eight or more states simply make it
unlawful to detect state parks and some states allow only specific areas
like beaches or disturbed lands.
If there are no metal detecting regulations in a state the state usually
defaults to their archaeology laws that forbid diggings for targets or the
state may use regulations dealing with the disturbance of vegetation or the
removal of rocks, etc. In the latter case you may detect but not recover or
remove any targets.
- State Beaches.
Generally salt water state beaches are ok to metal
detect. There may be restrictions, such as, you can detect only from the low
tide mark to the high tide mark. Never metal detect in sand dunes that are
roped off, have vegetation growing on them, or any beach park grassy area.
State fresh water beaches are sometimes locally ranger controlled. Even if
the state has tough regulations against metal detecting it may still be ok
in some instants to detect certain state fresh water beaches.
Of all the public entities,
counties may have the least restrictions placed on their county parks system
when it comes to metal detecting. Usually fresh water beaches are open to
metal detecting although in some county park systems it may be forbidden to
metal detect in the water. Other county public lands may have similar
restrictions on archaeology, historical and Native American burial sites.
Some counties require a permit to metal detect in county parks, others do
Many cities have municipal ordinances that cover park
usage. Frequently there are short statements in an ordinance that may made
it unlawful to metal detect, or a permit may be required, or metal detecting
is allowed but no digging. In many cities there may be no metal detecting
ordinance but other aspects of the park ordinance and regulation may
indirectly make detecting unlawful. Citiy properties usually fall under the
states archaeology, historical and Native American burial laws.
- College & School Districts.
School districts are starting to make
school properties off-limits after school hours except by special use
permission. In many cases school properties are secured by putting up chain
link fences and posted with no trespassing signs. In some cases school
districts are establishing property rules and often metal detecting is on
the do not list.
Metal detecting in a cemetery is not a good hobby
image. Regardless of the law never metal detect inside of any cemetery
boundary. I would even question metal detecting outside of the physical
boundaries of a cemetery since this could still provide the public with a
very bad image of a detectorist.
To use private lands for metal detecting one should
secure permission from the property owner or caretaker. Private lands can
have many older public sites on them such as:
- Defunct Amusement Parks
- Defunct Outdoor Theaters
- Resort Areas
- Railroad Lands
- Ghost Towns
- Civil & Revolutionary Battlefields
- Private Lakes and Beaches
Private lands are an excellent choice to metal detect. There are usually no
direct laws against the hobby except for property trespass laws. Therefore
gaining permission to enter the private property to metal detect is a must.
Permission can be either verbal or in a written form. One thing to keep in
mind for private property is that if there is a know or registered
archaeology, historical or Native American burial site on the private land
they will be off-limits to metal detecting.
In a few states there are laws on the book that prohibit anyone except
archaeologists to recovery artifacts from private lands.
- Where is it legal to metal detect? From this short
article you may draw the conclusion that there are very few places to metal
detect in the U.S. That is not really the case. Many county and city
properties are available to metal detect as well as fresh and salt water
beaches. The only catch is that there are many local and state regulations
that can cause a beach or a portion of a beach to be off limits. The ability
to know where it is lawful or unlawful falls on the individual detectorist
to seek out the answer.
There is information on the web but it is not comprehensive and will not
cover all counties, cities and school districts. The best approach is to
join or establish a metal detecting club and have a few of the members
become experts on the laws, regulations and city ordinances in your area.
You may say to yourself my own yard is safe to metal detect, well yes and
no. If your property is on the historical register, is part of a archaeology
site or may have Native American burial grounds your property will be off
limits to metal detecting.