Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jim Wilkinson: Columbia Maryland's Premier Stream Bed Collector

Jim Wilkinson of Columbia, Maryland, is a special breed of mineral collector. Most of his collecting is within an hour's drive of his house. He lives in a vast and heavily suburbanized area between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Sprawl, no trespassing signs, and strictly enforced laws against collecting in state parks rule out the vast majority of known localities in the region.  As a  retired natural resources planner for the Maryland Department of the Environment, Jim is keenly aware of these obstacles. Notwithstanding, he finds productive places to collect at will. His niche is stream beds. Access to them is easier and more available.

Several years ago, Mineral Bliss featured some of the amazing finds by Alana Benkowski in Baltimore City's Herring Run. Identifying them was often difficult. It was obvious that many of the specimens did  not flow directly from any logical point of origin in the Piedmont to her collecting mecca. She favored the alluvial deposits where Maryland's Coastal Plain begins at the eastern fringe of Baltimore City. The streams that Jim Wilkinson works are farther west in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Montgomery, and Frederick Counties. These streams have accumulated far less extraneous material. They flow directly through Piedmont areas where the mineralogy is specific.What he finds is easier to predict and identify. 

He photographs the specimens he collects  and posts their images to his home page on Mindat. The page currently boasts 121 photos. While few of them portray "eye-candy," they document species and locality pursuant to the town, village, or hamlet closest to the stream where he found them. Mining sites, quarries,and other more specifically placed localities within these jurisdictions appear separately as "sub-localities," naming the species attributed to them. Exclusive of the sub-localities and species, Jim is the sole source for Atholton, Simpsoniville, Scaggsville, Henryton, and Daniels.  

The 11.5 cm. x 5.5 cm. stream worn quartz (var.) rock crystal pictured at right is one of his more remarkable finds. He collected it along the Patuxent River in the heart of Columbia. With over 100,000 inhabitants, including himself, Columbia is larger than a village, town, or hamlet.  Mindat names the closest town of Simpsonville as the locality for this crystal. Even though "Columbia Area" is named as a locality, it only receives credit for species collected "from construction and excavations in the area." This makes sense. The geology of this region suggests that wherever it originated, such a crystal could just have likely found its way in the Patuxent to Columbia as to Scaggsville. Naming the heart of the neatly planned city of Columbia as an active collecting locality would be a stretch.  

Though he focuses on streams, Jim is keenly aware of and interested in looking for  species  reported from nearby quarries, mining sites, or other localities.  Though so many such spots are posted, built over,  cleaned out, or otherwise inaccessible, it is logical that some of the species they produced could show up in rocks in nearby streams. Beryl was once somewhat common in many of the numerous mostly off-limits pegmatites gracing the Patapsco and Patuxent River valleys. Jim collected the  7 centimeter beryl crystal at left in a stream near Marriottsville. It could be worthy of consideration as one of the more extraordinary finds of beryl in recent years anywhere in Maryland.

Jim drove to Frederick County after reading  our post about the magnificent suite of minerals that Dr. Jim Cordua collected in the 1960's at the Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry.  Although we had emphasized the no trespassing signs, the prohibitive overgrowth and no evidence of dumps, Jim found a small stream not far away that was accessible. The sphalerite he retrieved  hardly matched the glorious crystals that Dr. Cordua collected  half a century ago shortly after workers informed him of recent blasts. But one can feel assured that to find sphalerite or any other notable species from this locality today by any other means would be futile.

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