The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge sits at the base of the majestic granite peaks of the Elkhorn Mountain Range adjacent to the historic town of Sumpter along the Elkhorn Scenic Byway, and is the cornerstone of the Sumpter Dredge State Park.
The surrounding landscape still bears the scars from when this massive gold dredge scoured the riverbed for gold and miles of tailings line the banks of the river, a remembrance from the prosperous days of mining. The Sumpter Valley Dredge left much of the rocky footprint that you’ll see on your trek along Highway 7 between Phillips lake and Sumpter. The dredge is an important link to Oregon’s pioneering past and development. It is one of the largest and most accessible gold dredges in the U.S..
The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge is the last of three built on the Powder River. Built in 1935, it ran until 1954, and dug up more than four million dollars worth of gold by a simple, but dramatic method. Sticking out from the dredge’s hull is a massive boom bearing 72 1-ton buckets. The buckets, moving like the chain of a chainsaw, would bore into the riverbank and carry the loose rock back into the dredge interior. Once inside, the rock would pass through a series of steel cylinders to separate the material by size, sending the smaller material deeper into the dredge. Using water and sluices, the gold would be separated from the sediment. The spoils from this process and larger rock pass through the back of the dredge and are deposited behind it via another boom.
Visitors to the park can take a guided tour of the dredge and wander for hours through the interpretive hiking trails that meander through the tailings left behind by the dredge.
. After visiting the dredge and perhaps taking a gold panning lesson from the park rangers, there’s lots more history to explore at the Sumpter Valley Railroad, which delivers passengers to the Sumpter Station located at the entrance to the park. Or, continue to explore the area’s Gold rush heritage across the street at the Cracker Creek Museum of Mining before continuing along the byway to the ghost town of Granite.