Pick Petoskey stones while they’re hot

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Petoskey Stone. Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Mark Trifilio

The near record high water shrinking Lake Michigan beaches is also uncovering a king’s ransom of Petoskey stones.

If you haven’t heard about the abundance of Petoskey stones now available for hunting, maybe it’s because people keep it to themselves – much like finding a treasure trove of truffles.

The only place in the world to find Petoskey stones is along the Lake Michigan shoreline of the state’s northwest Lower Peninsula. The state’s official stone is filled with small circles that look like gray eagle eyes when they are wet or polished.

For $8, you can buy a sanding kit and polish the stones in about an hour.  

Now is a good time to find the popular stones, experts say.

Petoskey stone hunting is at the pinnacle of a long cycle, said Kevin Gauthier, the owner of Korner Gem, a jewelry store in Traverse City specializing in Petoskey stones. Gauthier, who has written three best-selling books on stones, started collecting Petoskey stones as a child.

“They are so easy to find right now because of the high water,” he said

Every 20 to 30 years, erosion from high water uncovers hidden stones, Gauthier said. When the water levels go back down, the beaches will be picked nearly clean of stones within five years.

It’s easy to find them even now because the water is revealing them as it rises, he said. You just have to wade into the water a bit.

When beaches are picked clean, it will be almost two decades or more of hard times for scouting stones, he said.

Gauthier began selling the stones when he was only nine. He stopped collecting stones at beaches years ago. These days he prefers to go to a beach where stones are hard to find and drop some of his own in the water for others to discover.

“I love to watch the face of a kid light up when they find one,“ he said.

When asked where the best place to find them he plays it close to the vest.

“Really, the best place to find them is wherever an excavator is working.”

Excavated gravel between Northport and Petoskey will always have Petoskey stones, Gauthier said. But that’s not where he gets most of his.

“Most of the stones I get are from long forgotten collections in people’s basements.”

Not long ago, Gauthier unwrapped newspaper dated 1968 from around some of those long forgotten stones.

The internet and tourism have increased entrepreneurial interest.

“Ten years ago if you went to an art fair it would be me and maybe one other person (selling stones),” Gauthier said. “Today there are 10-15 booths.”

Writing books to teach people about stones is bittersweet, he said.  Every time he writes a book about how and where to find stones, they seem to disappear. Recently he wrote a book about Leland blue stones. “Now all the stones around Leland are gray,” he said.

But he isn’t too worried about Petoskey stones; they are still abundant.

Just don’t look for them in national parks, said Andrew Blake, acting chief ranger of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in Empire.  It is illegal to collect anything within the park and a steep fine will be issued to those who try.

“We mainly educate people and give warnings, but occasionally we will issue a ticket,” Blake said. There is a minimum fine of $325 to remove any fossils or wood. It’s OK to pick up to 25 pounds of rocks per person at the state parks.

Local laws and rules are inconsistent and vary by area. For example, there are no restrictions along Traverse City beaches. But it’s a good idea to check local laws for any beach you plan to hunt for stones.

12 thoughts on “Pick Petoskey stones while they’re hot

  1. They can literally be found in every part of the state. Found one in the Saginaw river.

  2. “The only place in the world to find Petoskey stones is along the Lake Michigan shoreline of the state’s northwest Lower Peninsula.” Seriously. Does this author even live in Michigan ? I have found more Petoskey stones on the beaches of Lake Huron than I have ever found near Lake Michigan. What an ignorant statement to say they are ONLY found on the beaches of Lake Huron.

  3. The story does mention both the weight limit and that it is illegal to collect them from national parks.

  4. I’m glad my wiki photo is still around. It got taken down off the main Petoskey Stone page years ago.

    Good information in this article all around. I can’t wait to share. Thank you

  5. We find them easily 30 miles inland too, possibly because there was an old gravel pit there that is dried up. This is near Onaway.

  6. We find them every time we go out on Lake Huron. ( north east ) They may not be as abundant here but definitely able to find them.

  7. you fail tell them there is a limit of 25 lbs per year–hoarders are not welcomed and we like many to enjoy. You also failed to tell them you can not take any rock from the national parks shorelines–not one.

  8. This story fell short by not explaining what Petoskey stones are. Wikipedia seems reliable enough on this one: “A Petoskey stone is a rock and a fossil, often pebble-shaped, that is composed of a fossilized rugose coral, Hexagonaria percarinata.[1] Such stones were formed as a result of glaciation, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern (and some in the northeastern) portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula. In those same areas of Michigan, complete fossilized coral colony heads can be found in the source rocks for the Petoskey stones.”

  9. The NW Lower Peninsula along Lake Michigan may be the best place to find them, but Petoskey stones can be found along Lake Huron, too.

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