PARIS — When Gary Freeman pulled up to the front of his mine at Mount Mica in Paris on Saturday, he knew something was missing.
Actually, a lot of things were missing — gemstones were plundered from the large swath of showy colored rock on the wall face that’s not only used as a decorative piece but also as an educational tool.
Freeman, who has owned the U.S.’s first tourmaline mine since 2003 with his wife, Mary, has closed his privately owned mine to gem and mineral clubs until the perpetrators are caught.
Mount Mica is a federally regulated and inspected mine and, to be friendly, he allows Maine Mineral Adventures in Woodstock and Poland Mining Camp to bring in paying customers and gem and rock clubs to his mountain on the weekends to dig for gemstones.
“You let 75 people come into your house and see where your silverware is and later on somebody comes back and gets the silverware,” Freeman said.
He noted mineral clubs often have a broad spectrum of people as members, and he’s had bad experiences with some club members after they’ve visited. “It’s only a few bad eggs, and everybody else is good. It only takes one person with Ebola to get the whole thing going.”
He recently had a group travel to Mount Mica in search of a rare mineral that could have some economic potential for the area. Tests confirmed the mineral’s existence in the front of the mine where the wall face was bashed up. The mine owner said he didn’t want to go into details, but did share a little bit about the find.
“It is an essential mineral that has very important application in our everyday lives. Oxford County is blessed with having this rare mineral,” Freeman said. “The only other places in the world that has it — besides places in Canada where it’s running out — you have to battle your way in. You have to have your guns blazing to even go look at it because of political instability.”
He’s also upset that the wall face was defaced because of its educational value.
“It sort of too bad because the natural display in the front of the mine kind of tells the whole story of how this stuff occurs,” Freeman said. “It gives people a sense what’s going on if they didn’t know anything at all about rocks.”
He said whoever poached the rocks from the front of the mine was informed because they were able to elude his security system, which he compared to those found in many gas stations.
“They were able to get where they had to get without passing through the eyeballs (of the security system),” Freeman said, noting he’s invested roughly $2 million into his mine. “I just have to rethink this whole weekend thing.”
When he drove up to the mine on Saturday, a green SUV was leaving, but Freeman isn’t sure if it was the suspect’s vehicle.
He pointed to other mines around the world, and even out West, that are so secure they look like prisons from the outside, complete with chain-link fences with razor wire on top. Freeman added Oxford County has a legacy of having more laid back and less secure mines where people can come and pound rocks and collect stones, which he said is all well and good as long as the mines are abandoned or defunct, which isn’t the case with Mount Mica.
“Somehow, these mines are like fair game. You can’t go into the farmer’s field and pick his corn,” he said.
According to Freeman, earlier this spring a similar situation happened in the front of the mine, and those people were caught by police and arrested. He doesn’t think the most recent incident is related, but he’s not sure.
He suspects there’s a group out there that knows about the most recent pillaging at Mount Mica. Anyone with information can call the Paris Police Department at 743-7448.