Geocaching: Good For The Area, The Environment, And Everybody

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December 31, 1969

After hiking for two hours through thick brush, swamp, and more mosquitoes than I had ever seen before, we came to a lone pine tree that overlooked a spectacular view of the Arkansas River. Even though we had only gone a mile away from the trail that was familiar to me, I could have been miles away from home. Even the River, which I had come to know extremely well over the years, looked totally new from this perspective.

What brought me so far off of the beaten path? A Geocache.Geocaching - Volunteer Global

Geocaching, as described by their website, is a “free, real-world outdoor treasure hunt”—and it's honestly just that. A typical Geocache adventure begins with learning about a “cache” on the Geocaching website, loading its geographic coordinates into your GPS or smartphone, and then you're out for the hunt.

Geocaches can range in size, the difficulty of its hiding place, and the terrain that you'll have to go through to find it. They can be in the middle of the wilderness hidden in fallen logs or on the top of a parking garage with a view of the big city. Everything can vary, but it’s always a great way to explore a new area or re-discover your own locale.

Many Geocaches also have “swag” or prizes for the finders. These prizes are often small, and it’s general practice that you replace the prize with an item of equal or lesser value. And, sometimes you'll luck into Geocoins or Travel Bugs, both a type of trackable item that the Geocaching website uses to track cache movements.

The implications of Geocaching for travel are pretty obvious—what better way is there to get to know an area than to search it closely looking for hidden treasure?

The Geocaching network also works hard to make this an activity that benefits the area where the cache is located, the local history and geography movements, and the Geocachers themselves.

Cache In, Trash Out:

Geocaching can often require Geocachers to comb over the land a little more than they normally would—and they totally want to harness this power. One of their many initiatives is called “Cache in, Trash Out.”

While official CITO day is April 21, the Geocaching community has a long-held practice of bringing trash bags along when looking for Geocaches and picking up any trash that has accumulated in the area. This way, Geocachers aren't just exploring a new area; they're making it even better for the Geocachers behind them.

Geocaching and Education:Geocaching - Volunteer Global

The Geocaching community strives to make this an educational activity by helping teachers build curriculum around using GPS coordinates, exploring their local community, and even learning something about the landscape in their own backyard. Many Geocaches are placed by historical organizations that want to teach locals about the unique historical significance of the coordinates of the cache. Many caches are placed in national parks and places on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Not all Geocaches involve finding hidden treasure; some are instead about the exploration of the place itself. Earth Caches, which are monitored by the Geological Society of America (GSA), exist to point out an interesting geological or environmental oddity, and to help the Geocacher learn something new. For example, a Geocache might come with the instructions on how to identify a certain kind of rock found only in the area, or a rare type of tree.

The folks at Geocaching.com don't just stop there with educational initiatives—they also provide classroom and camp materials to help teach kids about the importance of place-based learning.

Volunteering For Geocaching.Com

Geocaching.com wants to spread geocaching as far and wide as possible—and uses a strong network of volunteers to make this happen. While most volunteers are experienced Geocachers, the website still looks for people familiar to areas with little or no Geocaches or else people who are willing to translate their website information into other languages. To learn a bit more about playing an even more vital role in this community, check this out.

A Few Ground Rules:

Want to bring Geocaching to your own community or even just start Geocaching yourself? It’s completely free, but still good to know a few ground rules and familiarize yourself with the Geocaching website before you begin.

Get to know the Geocaching 101 page (which is short and easy to read) or watch their two-minute video.

Next, get to it! It's addicting, educational, and will help you look at the world in ways you never expected. The Geocaching community is one of the most welcoming I've ever met—so join these fun, inquisitive people and start your hunt! 

Photos courtesy of Bob n Rene and cachemania, Creative Commons.