GOLD MINE HIKES. The next Park Service hikes to the Maryland Gold Mine are scheduled Aug. 11 and 25 at 1:30. Or you can go it alone. Wear sturdy shoes and long pants, and follow the Blue Blaze Trail, which begins across the service road from the southeast corner of the white picket fence that encircles Great Falls Tavern. For details, call 299-3613.

Ed Ingalls of Potomac was coming off shift one evening in 1936 when his miner's light caught a yellow glint. Could it be gold? He'd just had the vein assayed by a Canadian mining engineer, with discouraging results. Still, a glint showing through the quartz like that . . .

"Was it there!! You betcha!" Ingalls exulted 30 years later in a privately published memoir. He rounded up a crew; they bored a hole 18 inches back of the color, mortared one 30-pound rock by hand and shipped it to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia for a test.

The mint paid $3,079.05 for the gold Ingalls discovered that night in Great Falls, Maryland.

You don't hear much about the Maryland gold rush these days, but there was gold in these here hills, most of it concentrated in the Washington area. Gold fever raged off and on for more than 80 years at the Maryland Gold Mine in Great Falls, where Ingalls was underground foreman.

Today all that's left of his mining camp are some dilapidated wooden buildings in various stages of decay in the woods near the intersection of Falls Road and Mac-Arthur Boulevard in Great Falls. The shafts filed in long ago.

"You have to close your eyes and use your imagination," Park Service ranger Donna Donaldson tells the groups she leads up to see the ruins. "Our gold mines are the romantic kind."

Gold mining in the Washington area was always a risky proposition. The Great Falls mine regularly went out of business before it finally shut down for good in 1940. Altogether, about 5,000 ounces of gold, valued at more than $150,000, were recovered.

Gold was first discovered here in 1861. A Civil War private named McCleary, Clear, Cleary or Carey, depending on your source, is supposed to have spotted it while washing dishes in a farmer's creek. After the war he came back and bought the farm.

Two years and 11 ounces of gold later, he sold it.

Life was like that in the Maryland goldmining biz. Deposits here are erratic and generally of low gold content. In the 80 years between the Civil War and World War II, the Great Falls mine went out of business no less than six times.

There were two intense periods of exploitation. In 1915 the Atlantic Development Co. sent a geologist, A.A. Hassan, to direct an exploration program. He ran into trouble with the propaganda-crazed locals, who thought his trenches must be part of a clandestine war operation. A U.S. Geological Survey representative was sent for, and was able to assure them Hassan wasn't preparing for a secret German attack on Washington.

The mine went out of business briefly in 1971 and again in 1922. Then it lay dormant for more than a decade.

In 1934 the price of gold rose to $35 an ounce and the Maryland Mining Co., stimulated by that phenomenal rate, was organized. Between 1936 and 1940 they were able to recover more than 2,500 ounces of gold, valued at $90,000. But like everyone else who mined for gold in Maryland, they eventually went under. The mine closed for good in 1940.

The best way to see the Maryland Gold Mine ruins, now part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, is to hike up from Great Falls Park on the Blue Blaze Trail. Most of the time you're on your own, unless you pick up one of the hikes sponsored by the Park Service.

Quartz veins and prospectors' holes dot the approach to the mines. Evidence of the mining operation is everywhere, though the pits and trenches may not be obvious to those unfamiliar with the area's history.

Sandy soil - pulp from the mining operation - tells you when you're getting near the site. Once there you can see the ruins of a water tower and the blacksmith shop where miners sharpened and cared for their large metal drills. Most of the structures here were built between 1917 and 1920, according to a Park Service historian. The forest is rapidly swallowing them up.

Pretty soon you won't be able to see them at all. CAPTION: Picture, THE STEAM SHACK, BARELY STANDING, AT OUR LOCAL GOLD MINE. By Bill Clark.