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Millionaire Forrest Fenn announced a new clue on TODAY on Friday for eager seekers of the gold and precious jewels he’s hidden in New Mexico: "The treasure is not in a graveyard."
Sound like a strange clue? A little morbid, perhaps? Well, it was a necessary one: People have been digging for Fenn’s treasure chest in the strangest of places — graveyards included.
The hunt has been on in earnest ever since news of Fenn’s hidden treasure spread earlier this year. State and federal law enforcement officials have been trying to prevent treasure seekers from digging in spots where excavation is not allowed.
“Digging may be considered vandalism in some areas,” Santa Fe National Forest archaeologist Mike Bremer told TODAY.
In March, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officials said they found a man excavating around a concrete base with an iron cross memorial in the Terrero Campground on the banks of the Pecos River. The man faces charges under a law that prohibits excavating, injuring or destroying any cultural resource or artifact from state land.
When questioned about his digging, the man told authorities he was looking for the treasure described in Fenn’s book, “The Thrill of the Chase.”
An independent bookstore in Santa Fe called Collected Works reported a run on “The Thrill of the Chase” after Fenn's appearance on TODAY in February. Collected Works is the only brick-and-mortar store authorized to sell the book, which also can be purchased online. Fenn, a wealthy art collector and businessman, is donating money from book sales to the bookstore and to charities for cancer patients.
It was Fenn’s cancer diagnosis that prompted him to stash the 40-some-pound chest filled with some of his favorite gold and jewelry pieces in the mountains north of Santa Fe, N.M. The idea was to leave a legacy someone would enjoy seeking, said the 82-year-old Vietnam War veteran who made millions as an antiquities dealer.
Fenn’s other goal was to get people to fall in love with the outdoors again by searching for his treasure — and a family from Clovis, N.M., has done just that. Milisa and Brandon Wieland have four daughters ranging in age from 2 months to 6 years. The entire family went treasure hunting around the Cimarron Canyon last month.
“It’s all about spending time together, about getting away from the iPads and the computers” said mom Milisa Wieland.
The family plans to keep searching for the treasure as a way to enjoy each other’s company and keep the girls from spending so many hours playing with electronics.
“It’s pretty hard to go treasure hunting, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Kambrie Wieland, age 6.
To avoid criminal charges and other problems, treasure hunters need to know what the rules are where they are searching, authorities said. New Mexico encompasses about 78 million acres, and federal and state agencies supervise a large part of that land. Those agencies include the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the New Mexico State Land Office.
The Santa Fe Forest Service alone plans to have some 240 workers surveying the 11 million acres that fall under the agency's jurisdiction this summer, a time when treasure hunt efforts could ramp up.
“Know where you are and what the rules are,” Bremer advised, “then come and enjoy it.”