Searching for lost or forgotten objects with a metal detector is a hobby enjoyed by people across United States. Recreationally using a metal detector can land enthusiasts in trouble if they do not follow the regulations. Public land controlled by state and national parks is frequently off limits to metal detectors and authorities can consider them illegal if they disturb archeological or protected natural sites.
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According to the code of regulations for the National Park Service, metal detectors are strictly forbidden within national parks. This applies to magnetometers, side-scan sonar devices, and other detection devices. Anyone using a metal detector or found in possession of one within a national park is subject to a fine. Regulations exempt metal detectors which have been dismantled and properly stowed to prevent use. They may be transported through a national park so long as they are never used or fully assembled.
The vast majority of states have at least some form of rule dictating if, where, and when metal detectors may be used. In at least 12 states including Texas, Georgia and Minnesota, metal detecting is not allowed on public land. Other states with large coastlines, such as Hawaii, frequently limit metal detecting to public beaches. States that allow metal detecting on public land typically require that permission be granted from the park manager first.
Since local cities and counties can also impose their own metal detecting laws, it's important to always double check with a park ranger or manager before detecting on public land. Metal detecting enthusiasts are free to pursue their hobby on private land, with explicit permission from the land owner.
Historic Preservation Act
Even where metal detecting is legal and permission granted by local authorities or land owners, metal detecting hobbyists must still obey the National Historic Preservation Act. This law protects any archeological or historically significant site on public lands. The law does not expressly forbid using a metal detector but doing so can get individuals in trouble.
If anyone digs up an artefact on public land, or removes it from it's original place, that is a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, and it can result in penalties and/or fines. Since the purpose of using a metal detector is frequently to find buried or hidden objects, using a metal detector on public lands can be construed as a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.
The Federation of Metal Detectors and Archeological Clubs gives a blanket warning. "If it is a historical park in any way then consider it off limits."
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