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Should NH remove the right to treasure hunt with a metal detector on school grounds?

metal detecting in a field
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New Hampshire takes its rights seriously—we are the “Live Free or Die State” after all. But here’s one right you probably didn’t know you had: the right to go treasure hunting with a metal detector on athletic fields and school grounds. That access may be in jeopardy however. This year, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering removing these areas from the list of allowed places to metal detect.

Metal detecting in New Hampshire

New Hampshire RSA 227-C:12 states in part that treasure hunting with metal detectors is allowed on beaches, athletic fields, school grounds, perimeters of cemeteries, unpaved roads, within 25 feet of picnic tables and park pavilions, and currently-used dumps. The legal use of metal detectors and dowsing rods is part of a larger law that regulates archaeological investigations and historic resources.

While RSA 227-C dates back to the 1980s, metal detecting goes back a lot farther. One of the earliest metal detectors was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881 to locate a bullet lodged in President James Garfield’s chest after he was shot. The technology developed in the decades following, with significant development spurred by World War II, and the hobby rose in popularity among recreational treasure seekers in the 1960s and ‘70s. Around this time, lawmakers became concerned with the potential impact on archaeological sites and cultural heritage. On the federal level, Congress passed the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 which restricts metal detecting on federal lands. Around this time, New Hampshire chose to clarify its own laws on the subject.

Protecting young athletes

This year Sen. Carrie Gendreau (R-Littleton) introduced SB 474, a bill that would strike “athletic fields” and “school grounds” from the list of legal metal detecting locations allowed under RSA 227-C:12.

During the public hearing on SB 474, Sen. Gendreau acknowledged the rising popularity of metal detecting and the excitement treasure seekers can feel when they discover a lost item. However, she testified that student athletes have been injured on fields in Colebrook where treasure seekers have failed to properly fill holes back in after digging for buried artifacts. Therefore, she believes the law should be changed to exclude athletic fields and school grounds from the list of allowed areas. 

Defending the hobby

While no one spoke in opposition to the bill at the Senate hearing, some New Hampshire metal detector enthusiasts have commented online against the bill. They argue that uncovered holes can be a hazard anywhere, not just athletic fields. Treasure hunters might in fact make fields safer by removing dangerous metal objects, such as nails.

In general, defenders of the metal detecting hobby argue that enthusiasts contribute to the understanding of local history and culture. Every year there are stories of discoveries made by these treasure hunters. One heartwarming example came late last year, when a treasure hunter on North Beach in Hampton discovered a 1968 Manchester Central High School class ring, engraved with initials. He was able to find the original owner and reunite her with the ring, which she had lost 55 years previous.

What do you think?

Do you have an opinion about this bill? It has passed the Senate but has not yet had a hearing scheduled in the House. Let your representatives know what you think! You can learn how to make your voice heard using our Advocacy Toolkit.


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