Josh Shaffer

Raleigh man finds rare Wake beryl

A sample of the beryl Robert Neyland found in his backyard creek in North Raleigh, which he has explored with his grandchildren for three years.
A sample of the beryl Robert Neyland found in his backyard creek in North Raleigh, which he has explored with his grandchildren for three years. Robert Neyland

When you’re a shade-tree geologist, just a retiree entertaining your grandchildren in a backyard creek, it tends to catch your eye when nature rolls out a green-colored rock.

The world seems even more peculiar when a second stone turns up with a mossy shade, and when out pops a third, you’re pretty sure you’ve got something special.

So Robert Neyland, 63, ran his finds by some expert eyeballs and there’s pretty clear consensus that he’s come across some samples of beryl — rare for Wake County.

And while he hasn’t discovered a gem-quality emerald, he still plans to show them off later this month at the Precious Gem and Mineral Show, manning his personal Mine Creek table.

Mine Creek runs through North Raleigh, crossing Lead Mine and Lynn roads before hitting Shelley Lake. Along the way, it crosses Neyland’s property off Summerland Drive, forming an S-curve he nicknamed “Pop-Pop Point.”

“I retired and I needed something to do,” he said, adding that he and the grandkids have been scouring Pop-Pop Point for three years. “This creek was right here. I was just going around picking up pretty rocks.”

The gem mineral beryl is often found in mountain counties in North Carolina, where its bright green emerald variety can bring five figures a carat. Anyone traveling the back roads of the Blue Ridge has seen a roadside invitation to hunt for these beauties.

In 2009, a pair of men in Alexander County unearthed a 310-carat emerald crystal, dubbed the “Carolina Emperor” and now housed at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in cut form.

But finding one around Raleigh is a far tougher dig. Scout the gem and mineral chat boards and the rock hounds talk about green stones like they’re white whales.

The way Neyland figures, his beryl washed down the creek from the graphite mines that used to dot his part of Raleigh, stopping around the start of the 20th century. When he sent his rocks to N.C. State University geologist Ronald Fodor, he analyzed it as beryl with the potential to be emerald based on its color.

“While a sample of beryl is certainly unusual to pick up from sediments and fragments in a Raleigh waterway,” Fodor wrote, “it should not be surprising given the kinds of rock making up Wake County. To be especially interesting, it would have to be variety emerald, and gems as such can be subjective.”

So Neyland sent it to Rebekah Anderson, a Raleigh jewelry appraiser, who described it as non-gem-quality emerald beryl. Neyland doesn’t want to sell any of his finds, just show them around. He’s got some quartz crystals, some arrowheads, some garnets in graphite.

To me, even if they’re not worth a dollar, Neyland’s collection deserves a look just to see what sort of tricks the Earth can pull off — a show in your back yard.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

The gem show

The precious gem and mineral show will be held March 27-29 in the Kerr Scott Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. For more information, see www.tarheelclub.org.

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