The next six months are crucial to the True North gold deposit, a neighbor to the massive Fort Knox Mine, and Fairbanks' best hope for another large-scale, hard-rock gold mine.
About 20 miles north of Fairbanks, Cleary Summit is the peak of the first range of hills north of town. Gold prospectors opened the area almost 100 years ago with some of the first strikes in Interior Alaska.
A thriving community of miners and families formed on the north side of Cleary Summit, living close to both placer and hard rock mines that dotted the spruce- and birch-covered hills. Later, massive dredges worked creek drainages in the area, both near the Chatanika Gold Camp and in Goldstream Valley. Today, some placer mines continue the search for nugget-sized gold.
Miners in the Fairbanks District, including the rolling hills north of town, have produced more than 8 million ounces of gold since work began here just after the turn of the century. Nearly all of that gold - save 300,000 ounces - has been the visible variety washed from creek beds by placer miners.
A few hard-rock gold mines operated in the Cleary Summit area, from the 1920s through the beginning of World War II. But the steep slopes have mostly been ignored by modern prospectors. Only a few dedicated searchers have pushed on, including Curt Freeman, a Fairbanks-based consulting geologist and history buff interested in Cleary Summit's past.
"For years, there was not a whole lot of work (mining) going on in Alaska," he said. "It was the last place to put money because of the risk and uncertainty."
But now, hard-core searchers are reaping the rewards, or at least some acknowledgments, for their faith that hard rock gold production around Cleary Summit would resume some day.
"We're in the midst of a boom we haven't seen here for a half a century," Freeman said. "Now, the money that's being spent in Alaska is a very significant amount for anywhere in the world."
Each prospector, geologist and property owner can dream of hitting a mother lode, equal to or even surpassing in richness the 4.1 million ounce gold deposit at Fort Knox - the neighborhood's current jewel.
State statistics back up talk of another gold boom in Fairbanks. In 1996, prospectors in Alaska spent 30 percent more for exploration work than the prior year, while mine developers surged an incredible 165 percent in the same period. Construction at Fort Knox gold mine, located just a few miles off of the top of Cleary Summit, figured heavily in the development category last year.
And its neighbor - the True North project, located on the opposite side of the summit - completed the largest exploration program in the Fairbanks district in 1996, according to the Alaska Mineral Industry Summary Report for 1996. Many in the gold mining business point to True North as the best chance for another large hard-rock gold mine in the Fairbanks area.
"I would consider True North our most valuable property, even though we only have a 35 percent interest in it," said Rich Hughes, a mining engineer for La Teko.