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French Road panning place offers visitors buried treasure

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Chris, left, and Lily Wherry pan for gems and stones at the Cedar Panning Co. in Alpena Township. The business lets customers filter the stones from sand using pans and running water.

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — Snuggled in the woods on French Road is a gem waiting for people of all ages to enjoy.

The Cedar Panning Co. was established by Correne and Larry Kenza in 2015 and offers visitors an opportunity to pan for gems that they can take home as treasured keepsakes.

Correne said her husband is a field service engineer and works in and around quarries. While visiting him out of town one time, they went panning, and she’s been infatuated with it since.

Soon after that, she decided she wanted to bring the excitement of panning to others and the idea for the business was born.

“I asked my husband if I could start to play outside while at home instead of working at the bank,” Correne said.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Correne Kenza shows off some of the jewelry that she has made out of the stones that have been found at the Cedar Panning Co. in Alpena Township. She said there are many souvenirs available and reasonably priced for people to take with them. Customers are also allowed to keep the stones they find while panning.

Larry built all of the long chutes through which recycled and treated water runs for panners to sift through their scoops of sand. Visitors set their finds on little tables and review information cards with pictures and names of the stones so they can identify their take. New types of stones are added annually.

The park is handicap-friendly, and there is plenty of room for those who are disabled or in a wheelchair.

Being a novice when it came to identifying stones, Correne said she worked hard to learn as much as she could so she could share her knowledge with her customers, whom she said range from toddlers to people into their 90s.

“I had no background in this at all, so I really didn’t know anything about rocks,” she said. “There was a learning curve for me, but I did a lot of reading and research and asked a lot of questions when we went panning at other places. The hardest thing was so many stones look alike, and I had to be able to tell them apart.”

Most years, more than 2,000 people come through and give panning a try, Larry said. He said that total doesn’t include field trips by students.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Jon Flack, right, rinses his pan in the running water to reveal several small stones at the Cedar Panning Co. in Alpena Township. There are many different types of stones that come in many sizes.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw the business a curveball this spring, but he said business has been steady since they recently reopened.

To help get through the slow period, the park sold pails and bags of sand that had gems mixed in with them so people could pan at home. Correne said that practice is also popular for camping, parties, and just to get the kids out of the house.

There is also a gift shop at the park featuring handcrafted jewelry and trinkets made from gems from panning. There are also jewelry boxes, walking sticks, and many other items.

The couple is not done and hope to make some changes to the park in the coming years. Correne said there are already trails for hiking, a hill to roll down and other fun activities, but a picnic area could be in the works, along with a place to play bean-bag-toss.

“The place gets people out of the house, is educational and a lot of fun,” Correne said. “If you would have told me it would have grown to what it is today, I wouldn’t have believed you. We love the people and especially seeing the smiles and looks of wonderment when they uncover some of the beautiful stones.”

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Lily Wherry inserts her face into that of the “prospector,” which is popular for photos among guests at the Cedar Panning Co. at Alpena Township. There are also trails for families to explore on the property and a hill for people to climb and roll down.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Nicole Wherry takes a few minutes to pan at the Cedar Panning Co. in Alpena Township while her baby takes a quick nap during an afternoon at the park.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The screens in the pans at the Cedar Panning Co. in Alpena Township keep the rocks from sliding back into the sand and water. The attraction also offers an informational card that helps customers identify what types of stones they found.

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