R.I. Relics founder fears metal detecting hobby is under siege

R.I. Relics founder fears metal detecting hobby is under siege

LINCOLN – Would you allow someone to hunt for metal on your property?

The response from many people is “no,” says Nathan Matthews, of Lincoln.

“I always ask permission, but it’s starting to seem like less and less people are OK with metal detecting,” he said. “It’s starting to become a major issue. More and more people look down on it now.”

Matthews, who runs Rhode Island Relics, a licensed and insured metal detecting group running annual events in the area, feels squeezed out of the town and state that he calls home, no longer welcome to partake in the hobby even on public lands.

He said he was first asked to stop metal detecting on the properties abutting the Chase Farm Park this fall, and was then booted from Lincoln Woods State Park shortly thereafter. Most recently, he said police officers asked him not to return to a spot he had been detecting near for years because he was passing through private property.

Matthews believes that under state legislation, a “no trespassing” sign must be posted on public land not owned by a land trust, otherwise someone can metal detect there (excluding residential properties, which require the owner’s permission).

For their part, members of the Lincoln Police Department say they have made no official directives regarding metal detecting. Capt. Philip Gould, the department’s public information officer, said there’s nothing on record prohibiting metal detecting on public property as long as detectorists obey local ordinances and avoid digging up the town’s sports complexes.

“Unless they’re metal detecting after hours or damaging property, we have no problem with it,” he said. “I don’t see a public danger with metal detecting as long as you’re abiding by local ordinances and being respectful of private property.”

The Lincoln Police Department doesn’t have jurisdiction over Lincoln Woods, which houses Rhode Island State Police barracks. When asked for comment, state police directed questions to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

A spokeswoman for RIDEM noted the law regarding metal detecting in state parks and management areas mandates that metal detectors or other location devices be “restricted to designated areas during specified time periods.”

Matthews, who has been asked to cease detecting on certain lands by RIDEM, said detectorists should be working with RIDEM, land trusts and local historical societies to recover “the history in the ground.” Instead, “they want it to stay lost in the ground forever,” he said.

“We just want to find the history for them,” he said. “It’s not about making money or finding treasure. A one-cent piece isn’t even worth a penny at this rate. You may find a coin but the value is virtually worthless … but it has serious historical significance.”

Matthews said the negative perception of metal detecting is not limited to Lincoln. While he noted that Cumberland’s former Mayor Bill Murray was welcoming and that managers of Franklin Farm never shut their doors to the metal detecting community, the rest of the town is not as welcoming.

“Go anywhere else in Cumberland and see what they say about metal detecting,” he said. “It’s all over the state. Now, as a metal detector you’d better prepare to drive three to four hours to find a place to metal detect.”

After his group hosted a “seeded hunt” at Franklin Farm last spring, a neighbor called to complain that they’d destroy the landscape.

“The reality is, hundreds of people show up, dig proper holes, remove trash and provide a history of the area,” Matthews said. Rhode Island Relics is planning another “Pound the Ground” event at the farm in April.

Matthews donates recovered relics to historical organizations or interested individuals.

“I don’t need 5,000 buckles,” he said. “If someone allows me to search their property, I always say they can keep what I find. I just want to take pictures for our Facebook page to promote the history.”

He said he also collects and properly disposes of bottles, trash and other urban waste in his travels, even disposing of heroin needles recovered from parks and playgrounds around the state.

“The thing that’s starting to stress me out is that we’re not hurting anybody. If there was any sort of criminal activity to worry about, it certainly wasn’t metal detecting,” said Matthews. “For some reason people are considering a passion for finding history in the ground criminal activity. It doesn’t make sense to me.”


Let's recap.

Mr. Matthews admits that he tresspasses on private land thus committing a crime. One of the most important facets of the code of ethics for this hobby is "Respect private land," So he's not only violating the ethics of the hobby, but committing a crime.

He also admits to metal detecting on RIDEM land; forbiden by RIDEM policy.

He admits to metal detecting on land abutting Chase Farm (all privately owned) and getting asked to leave, but claims he "always asks permission." So why would he be asked to leave if he has permission from the land owner? The answer is, he doesn't, he's tresspassing.

The reason the hobby "is under seige" is because bad actors tresspass on private land and metal detect in places where it is expressly forbidden, Mr. Matthews freely admits do doing this.

Responsible hobbyists do not do what Mr. Matthews admits to doing. Responsible hobbyists do not have trouble gaining permission to metal detect private lands. It just takes more time and effort than tresspassing does.