It’s likely that Kevin Kinard wasn’t planning on making his fortune when he joined friends on a day-trip to an Arkansas state park. But as he spotted something glistening on the ground, he got a lot more than he bargained for. Stooping to pick up what he thought was a piece of glass, he had no idea that he was about to make a life-changing discovery.
For most people, a trip to a state park is simply a chance to experience nature – and maybe snap some good Instagram shots while you’re there. But visitors to this destination near the city of Murfreesboro sometimes come away with a lot more. And on September 7, 2020, Kinard would join their lucky ranks.
For years, Kinard had been visiting the park with friends, hoping to become one of the fortunate visitors to uncover its hidden treasure. But ever since the second grade, he had gone home empty-handed. Then, one sunny Labor Day, his luck changed – and he made a discovery that brought him to tears.
At first, Kinard thought that he had discovered a piece of glass, glinting on the surface of the recently-plowed soil. But when he took it to park employees hours later, he got the shock of his life. Because it wasn’t an everyday object that the Arkansas man had found – it was a rare find likely worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course, Kinard was far from the first person to uncover a valuable treasure out in the American wilds. For example, in June 2020 it emerged that an unnamed man had made an incredible discovery somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Yes, he’d uncovered a bronze chest crammed with precious gemstones, jewelry and gold.
Had the man stumbled across a cache of valuables hidden by outlaws during the days of the wild west? Or perhaps something even more historic? As it turned out, the chest was actually buried much more recently. In fact, it was the infamous Fenn Treasure, stashed in a secret location by an eccentric art dealer in 2010.
For an entire decade, a community of treasure hunters had been desperately searching for the chest, following cryptic clues weaved into a book of short stories published by Fenn. And in a gruesome turn of events, a number of people had even lost their lives hunting in vain for the loot. But eventually, it was a lone man from somewhere in the eastern United States who discovered the jewels in an undisclosed location.
But how common is it really to discover treasure while wandering the American wilderness? Perhaps more so than you might think. Over in Arizona, for example, businessman John Hornewer stumbled upon an abandoned mine while out hiking with his brother in the Sonoran Desert. Inside, they found gold – and a whole lot more.
After deciding to polish a piece of ore from the mine, Hornewer and his brother realized that they had discovered an entirely new type of gemstone. Dubbed Sonoranite, it was officially brought to the market in 2018 and is believed to fetch around $35 per carat. And now, sourcing and finishing the rock has become a family business – not a bad outcome for an innocuous hike.
Yet not all of the treasures found in America’s forests and parks are quite so glamorous by nature. In 2009 a hiker was out exploring near Moab in Utah when he stumbled upon a strange footprint embedded in the ground. And experts determined that these were dinosaur tracks, left behind by creatures some 125 million years ago.
Two years later in 2011, another civilian unearthed a similar find in Arkansas – the same state where Kinard would make his own discovery. This time, it was a collection of dinosaur footprints stretching for hundreds of feet across the landscape. But it’s not just prehistoric treasures that can be found hiding in the region dubbed the Natural State.
So what might Kinard have found in the wilderness of Arkansas? For those who like to explore, the region offers plenty of opportunities to get back to nature. In fact, there are no less than 52 state parks scattered across Arkansas, offering everything from rocky mountains to scenic lakeland vistas.
And in total the Arkansas State Parks cover more than 54,000 acres and welcome around eight million visitors every year. Mostly, they tend to stick to the more popular locations, such as Devil’s Den State Park, situated in a valley in the Ozark Mountains. Or perhaps they while away the hours in Lake Catherine State Park, boating and swimming in the clear waters.
But chances are, none of these visitors will have a visit quite as memorable as Kinard’s. Because his fateful trip didn’t even take place at one of Arkansas’ more popular parks. When the bank manager made his discovery, in fact, he was visiting a relatively small attraction in the southwest of the state.
Dubbed Crater of Diamonds State Park, this area covers less than 1,000 acres, a mere scrap of land when compared to some of Arkansas’ larger parks. But despite its size, the site in Pike County has been a passion for Kinard since he was in the second grade. That year, a field trip launched an obsession that would last for more than 20 years.
After visiting Crater of Diamonds State Park with his school, Kinard returned at least once every year – and sometimes more. In 2020 he had already made one visit in May, despite world events keeping many people at home. But come September, he was ready to make a second trip.
Three months previously, Arkansas State Parks had launched a passport system so that visitors could document their travels around the region. Keen to add a Crater of Diamonds stamp to his collection, Kinard planned a return to his beloved park. And on Labor Day, the 33-year-old from Maumelle, AR, arrived with a group of friends in tow.
Purchased by the State of Arkansas back in 1972, Crater of Diamonds State Park has been welcoming tourists like Kinard since the 1950s. So what exactly is the attraction of this forested patch of land and the bare, 37.5-acre field at its heart? Well, it apparently all began some 95 million years ago, when a volcano formed and spewed magma out across the landscape.
As a result of this upheaval, diamonds that had formed deep beneath the continent were dredged up to the surface. And, to the endless fascination of tourists, they remain there to this day. In fact, Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in the world where the public can explore a site renowned for producing the coveted gemstone.
So it’s no wonder that Kinard was so keen to return year after year. But it seems as if these outings were more for pleasure than any serious treasure hunting. Because the bank manager had never discovered a diamond on any of his previous visits, and had no reason to suspect that this trip might be different.
Not to be discouraged, however, Kinard and his friends brought along the equipment needed to sift for diamonds during their visit. But after just ten minutes, he decided to take a different approach. Rather than pick through the soil in search of something shiny, he decided to walk between the rows of plowed earth, keeping his eyes peeled.
“Anything that looked like a crystal, I picked it up and put it in my bag,” Kinard explained in a September 2020 News release from Arkansas State Parks. And when he reached the southeast corner of the field, something caught his eye. There, glinting on the ground was a small, round object with a dimpled exterior.
So what had Kinard found? He explained, in the statement, that the object’s appearance had made him stop and take note. But it would be hours before he would realize exactly what he had discovered. He said, “It kind of looked interesting and shiny, so I put it in my bag and kept searching. I just thought it might’ve been glass.”
Some hours later Kinard and his friends were done with diamond hunting and dropped by the park’s Discovery Center to get an expert to look at their finds. At that point, the bank manager still didn’t think he’d found anything – save for the rounded piece of glass. So he nearly skipped getting his haul checked altogether, a move which would have proved a disastrous mistake.
But Kinard decided that he may as well ask an employee to look over his finds. And it’s a good job that he did. After successfully identifying most of the haul as non-precious minerals and rocks, the park worker set the strange, rounded object to one side.
At first the employee whisked the glass-like find into the office for closer inspection. And after a few tense moments, Kinard was invited to join the park managers in person. What they told him would blow his mind: he had discovered a massive diamond more than nine carats in weight.
For Caleb Howell, who works as the superintendent at Crater of Diamonds State Park, it was a powerful moment. In the release, he explained, “I always love to see the reactions and excitement of our visitors when they find large diamonds. When I met Mr. Kinard, it was immediately evident that he was shocked and speechless.”
Later, Kinard agreed. “I honestly teared up when they told me,” he admitted. “I was in complete shock.” And he had good reason to be. Because his diamond turned out to be the second largest ever discovered at the park, after the 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight unearthed in 1975. So just how much might such an impressive gem be worth?
Although the value of Kinard’s find is yet to be disclosed, the Amarillo Starlight is believed to be worth around $175,000. As such, this gem – which is roughly half the weight of the Amarillo – could fetch a six figure sum. Understandably, it took the lucky treasure hunter a few weeks to come to terms with his potential windfall.
Towards the end of September, Kinard returned to Crater of Diamonds State Park to talk about his discovery. Speaking about the diamond, he explained, “It weighs 9.07, and I found it on 9/7 [September 7]. I thought that was so unique.” And when naming the gem, as is tradition, he decided to recognize the friends who had accompanied him that fateful day.
After all, it was only because Kinard’s companion was having her finds checked that he had decided to do the same. And if she hadn’t done so, the 9-carat gemstone might have gone overlooked. So he decided to dub his discovery the Kinard Friendship Diamond. He said, “We love to travel together and had such a great time out here,” Kinard said. “It was a very humbling experience.”
And Kinard urged other visitors to the park to always have their discoveries looked over – even if they don’t think that they’ve got anything special. He said, “Have the park staff check everything, because you never know. I would have never in a million years dreamed that I had found anything. Always have them check it.”
But Kinard didn’t have to spend long puzzling over where to keep his valuable find. After returning to Maumelle, he simply locked up the diamond in the bank where he spends his working days. In a September 2020 interview with the news site Good Morning America, he explained that he would not let the probable windfall change him.
“I’m not sure what it’s worth, but I can’t do anything with a 9-carat diamond,” Kinard explained. “My boss said, ‘You may be a millionaire. Are you going to quit?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I’m too young for that. I’d still work. I’m just a regular guy.” But how exactly did this ordinary man from Arkansas land such a significant treasure?
According to Dru Edmonds, the park’s assistant superintendent, a number of different factors were at play. He explained in the news release, “Conditions in the diamond search area were perfect for Mr. Kinard. Park staff plowed the search area on August 20, just a few days before Tropical Storm Laura. The sun was out when Mr. Kinard visited, and he walked just the right path to notice the sunlight reflecting off his diamond.”
To many observers, it might seem strange that Arkansas State Parks allowed Kinard to keep his valuable discovery. But believe it or not, Crater of Diamonds actually operates a finders keepers policy with regards to its precious gems. In other words, visitors are entitled to pocket whatever treasures they might uncover during their visit. God bless America!
According to records, the first diamonds to be found on the land where the park now stands were discovered in 1906. And in 1924 prospectors discovered a record-breaking 40.23-carat gemstone, later dubbed Uncle Sam, on the same site. But despite these promising finds, the location did not turn out to be a profitable one for the mineral industry.
Eventually in the 1950s, the land became a tourist attraction, inviting paying guests to hunt for gemstones themselves. That same decade, a lucky visitor unearthed the Star of Arkansas, a 15.33-carat diamond. And even though the park was taken over by the state in 1972, hopeful treasure hunters continued to arrive in droves.
Since then, more than 30,000 diamonds have been discovered by tourists in the park – an average of around two a day. Before Kinard’s find, the second biggest gem was an 8.82-carat example unearthed in 1981. And the last big find was in 2019 when a woman found a yellow diamond weighing 3.72 carats.
For now, Kinard is letting the thrill of his discovery sink in. But as news of his good fortune spreads, it’s likely that more people will flock to Crater of Diamonds State Park in the hope of landing their own windfall. But will they return empty-handed – or is another similar gemstone still waiting to be discovered?