Don’t even think about plucking that shiny object from the Dix Park grass, buster.
In response to reports of “aggressive” metal detector-wielding hobbyists at the Dix Park property, the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday banned people from excavating any “earth and artifacts” from city properties.
The 308-acre property just south of downtown Raleigh has been a plantation, campground for Union soldiers during the Civil War and psychiatric hospital campus. And the city government, which in 2015 purchased the land from the state for $52 million, wants to preserve its historic character while transforming the area into a destination park.
Councilman Bonner Gaylord said he was surprised by staff reports that people are digging up the property.
“We’ve got to be careful with our resources and how we allow people to avail themselves to those resources,” Gaylord said. “Anything that’s of historical value needs to be preserved for posterity.”
City rules already prohibited people from removing plants or wildlife from government property. The new restrictions go into effect immediately and carry a fine of up to $500 if violated, said Tom McCormick, the city attorney.
“The parks people tell me that the metal detector folks are beginning to be very aggressive in digging for artifacts,” McCormick said. “I think this will help preserve the historic integrity of the park.”
Stephen Bentley, Raleigh parks superintendent, said he’s not aware of any city staffers or police officers having to confiscate any historic artifacts. But that doesn’t mean foragers haven’t tried.
“In some instances, we’ve seen people digging holes,” Bentley said. “And not small holes, large holes with shovels.”
The most popular spots are the big field near the State Farmers Market and Dix Hill.
“The front hill of Dix was a Civil War encampment,” Bentley said. “That whole hillside had several thousand Civil War troops from the northern army.”
Angela Crumpler’s family lived on Dix Hill, and she was raised there. Now retired, Crumpler is a Civil War history buff.
“There are horseshoes, buttons, belts, anything dealing with encampments,” she said. “I’ve talked to plenty of people who have found them over the years.”
The city hasn’t had a chance to comb through the Dix land for artifacts. But such a search is possible. The Dix Park Executive Planning Committee is in the process of hiring a consultant to help design the park.
“As part of the master plan process, many of the teams that we’re considering have cultural landscape specialists and some have an archeological background,” Bentley said.
So it’s only a matter of time until experts dig in.