GTPulse: Grand Traverse Area Rock and Mineral Club is 50 Years Old

In high school, I was in the Courtyard Club, a club dedicated to the maintenance of the courtyard in the center of the school. A large, midcentury building with long, flat lines and lots of windows, the school surrounded an outdoor courtyard that contained fruits, vegetables, flowers, and peacocks that regularly escaped into the close-by neighborhoods. It was one of the more simple and meditative clubs in school. There wasn’t a whole lot of face to face interaction between members like there was in Yearbook Club or Debate Club, and I liked that. We all just trickled into the courtyard after school, unnoticed by the others, and would get to work on planting, pruning, shoveling, or filling up food dishes. There was no set time to come or go. Do something to help out on Wednesdays and you were a member. There was a sense of community, acceptance, and quiet understanding. I yearn for those days where there were clubs to join, and new people to meet, and I was happy to discover that one of Traverse City’s oldest club’s is still providing community, knowledge, and hands-on experience for all the curious, rock-loving hearts.

“This year the club will be 50 years old this year, we got back to somebody that was a member in 1982 but that was the furthest we could find right now.”

Jared Bowen is the new president of the club and he spent some time digging into the club’s past for the sake of this story, and for his own duty as club president.

In 1970 a small group of Grand Traverse area residents all liked to nerd out on different kinds of rocks and minerals they would acquire.

Photo provided by: Grand Traverse Area Rock and Mineral Club

“Their primary focus, which is still true to the group to this day, is a lot of local rocks, minerals and lapidary.”

Lapidary is the practice of making cabochons from rocks. If both those words sound like Klingon to you, not to worry, they did to me too. Lapidary is altering the look of a stone through etching, engraving, cutting and polishing it. Cabochons are the resulting stones that have undergone smoothing and shaping.

“They have a domed surface. You see a lot of the local shops around here do that with Petoskey stones. We also do silversmithing.”

The club originally started with a lapidary focus but over the years it’s expanded to include rock and mineral information too. Members span from career geologists, like Jared, to jewelry makers, to those who know next to nothing.

“We have members who will say, ‘I know two kinds of rocks, big ones and little ones,” he said with a laugh. 

But all are welcomed with the same warm enthusiasm. Jared has only been a part of the group for the past three years, but once the group caught wind of his extensive higher education in geology, he was quickly ushered into a presidency. 

“People found out I had a background in it and the rest is history. But there are people interested in the gems and minerals portion. There are people that are interested in the lapidary portion, there are people who are lifelong collectors who have been walking Michigan beaches for the last couple of decades. We offer a place where they can come learn about what they’re finding.”

Photo provided by: Grand Traverse Area Rock and Mineral Club

Michigan is a special place for finding rocks because of glacial activity, the last Ice Age brought over rocks from the Canadian Shield so there’s a healthy variety sprinkled throughout the Great Lakes.

Lately, most folks have been discovering the group through its Facebook page. Jared found out about the club through their yearly rock show. Typically held the last weekend in September, he went to the show after living in the area for two years. 

“A person I work with said I should check it out and it was a really good time. There were quite a few vendors on two floors of the old library building. That was my first experience with it. Six to eight months later I thought maybe I could do something to help out. Ended up taking a bigger position.”

The club meets every third Tuesday of every month. This has obviously been affected by COVID-19. Although they held a socially distant meeting last month, for the winter they will be transitioning to a virtual meet until the weather warms up again. During club meets, members discuss rocks and minerals they have found or are interested in. They also hold hands-on activities like silversmithing classes, and members have access to a lab.

Photo provided by: Grand Traverse Area Rock and Mineral Club

“We have our own workroom in the basement of the Carnegie building that offers rock saws to cut your rocks. We teach people how to do cabochons. So we have grinders there where people can grind and polish their rocks.”

At some point throughout the history of the club, membership dwindled so low that the sparse members left debated on if they should try to keep it going. They did, and Jared and the almost 100 members are glad.

“There are so many cool rocks in Michigan that people want to know more about and that’s what the club tries to provide.”

At 50 years strong, they’ve gotta be doing something right. To get more information on the club and how you can go about joining check out their website

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Categories: GTPulse