"Bud" says his story is typical.

The first time he tried it was back in 1972, lured by the promise of quick, easy money.

Soon he found he was spending more and more money for bigger "beeps" and better highs. "Bud" soon abandoned all hope of ever breaking even. He fooled himself into believing that he was "just doing it torelax" or "to take his mind off of work."

Twenty years later, "Bud" can be found most days wandering around a playground or hanging around in the shadows in the park "looking for something . . . anything." "Bud" admits that he's "hooked" now and he could never give up metal detecting even if he tried.

Saturday afternoon, Alvin Lamb, whoprefers the name "Bud" to Alvin, was out at Downs Park along with seven other treasure hunters combing the grounds around the back yard of the old estate house.

Saturday was the annual metal-detecting day at Downs.

Treasure hunters are normally forbidden by park rangers out of fear that historic artifacts might be taken away.

Downs Park traces its modern history to the early 1800s when it was an estate of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

The detectors look like weed whackers, and the headphones that transmit the subtle beeps and "twees" look like the ear muffs that people wear when they operate heavy machinery. From a distance, the treasure seekers look like a group of gardeners who have whacked one weed too many and are now reduced to ambling back and forth waving their tools across the crab grass.

Suddenly, one hunter dropped to his knees and started hacking at the ground with his machete.

"A penny!" he shouts with ironic glee, "I'vefound a penny!"

He replaced his divot, scratched the penny and continued the ruse. "Oh, wow, and it's a 1984 Lincoln-head."

The hunters laughed, taking a break from the rigors of scanning. They talkedabout local history, soil chemistry and the great and valuable findsthat all seem to have been made by "some guy I met once" or "this lady I ran into."

Lamb, who is the president of MARS (the Maryland Artifacts Recovery Society), tells the story of how he once saved a marriage by locating the diamond ring some young fiancee lost while playing softball.

And then there is the requisite metal-detector humor.

"We always find a lot of marbles when we dig, because a lot of people lose 'em around here," said one of the park rangers.

Or theboasts: "When you get as good as me, you can read the date off a penny underground just by the tone of your beep," said Charles Fonner, one of the treasure hunters.

And then there was the underlying tension between the rangers, who normally chase the treasure hunters out of the park, and the hunters, many of whom claim to be responsible amateur archaeologists.

The park rangers limited the number of treasure hunters to eight this year "so we could keep an eye on 'em," Ranger Bob Hicks explained.

But the treasure hunters claim they -- notthe park rangers -- are really saving the artifacts.

"The giant debate among treasure hunters is whether to hunt illegally or not. Thereal question is, 'Why let it rust into the ground?' " said Fonner.

Indeed, many of the artifacts dug up Saturday are unrecognizably corroded. The relics, found eight to 10 inches underground, were destroyed by the moist, acidic and salty soils of Downs Park, which is adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay near Bodkin Point.

This year's finds were very disappointing. Only one "hoe-like thing" and "a whole bunch of cans and assorted garbage" were discovered, said a park ranger. Nothing looked interesting enough to go into the display case in the information center where an old gold watch, toy tin soldiers and 19th-century coins unearthed in the past are kept.

"We need some excitement around here," Ranger David Devault said. "I think next year we'llgo to the other side of the yard."

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