[Geocachers in Washington] formed a club to promote geocaching as a family-friendly, positive activity and work with land managers.” Soon, the club negotiated with the state parks to create a permit system.
“Now, geocaching is really well known,” Wolfe says.
In addition, park managers realized that geocaching could draw in more visitors. As the Washington State park system planned its centennial celebration, they recognized that geocaching could convey local park history while attracting paying visitors.
To that end, as part of last year’s centennial celebration, Washington State Parks — among the oldest state park systems in the nation — and WSGA kicked off the Washington State Parks Centennial GeoTour, which features more than 100 new caches hidden in 100 state parks — including forested mountain parks, undeveloped wilderness, beaches, parks that highlight Native American culture and more. Geocachers use a passport booklet to record their finds and receive a correlating commemorative, trackable Geocoin: 50 caches earns a silver coin and 100 caches garners a gold coin.
Smokey Bear geocoin. Credit: Roger Griffith
Their goal was simply to get people to visit a few state parks, but within just two and a half months, all 30 of the gold Geocoins they’d minted had been awarded to people who had found all 100 caches, with each of those cachers logging about 3,500 state-wide miles, Wolfe reports.
Likewise, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in Illinois — which owns or manages over 25,000 acres of land and about 125 active caches — also celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Geocaching Challenge Passport program last year. The geocaching passport had eight hidden caches that helped share the area’s cultural or natural history. These caches contained unique passport stickers; anyone who collected five or more different stickers earned a trackable Geocoin designed for the event. To promote the event, the district offered introductory geocaching classes. It also lends GPS units to cachers.
“We see it as a great way for families to explore our forest preserves,” says Dave Andrusyk, naturalist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Abandoned Duck Blind on Finch Lake is an EarthCache in Haile, La. Credit: FinchLake2000/Flickr
While geocaching lures visitors to enjoy forest lands, it also brings more hands to help. It’s not unusual to see geocachers leave a park or forest with a plastic grocery bag full of trash picked up along the way. “That’s a routine occurrence,” says Prebeck.
Cache In Trash Out events — organized by parks and other groups in addition to Geocaching. com — often focus on more than trashpickups. Washington State Geocaching Association, for instance, sometimes focuses on removing invasive plants or replanting native vegetation. One such volunteer event held annually in King County, Wash., regularly draws 30 to 40 cachers. Wolfe recalls one park official raving that geocachers are the hardest working volunteers they have.
Cachers can also serve as a second pair of eyes for forest trails. By reading comments that cachers log online, Feakes can sometimes learn about trees that have fallen across paths or excessive litter in Mark Twain National Forest. She also keeps an eye out for people reporting ATV use where it’s prohibited — and asks cache owners to list the rules on the cache webpage.
To leave even less of a trace, geocachers are often instructed to leave areas exactly how they found them — even replacing rocks just as they found them.
“Geocachers, as a whole, have been respectful of the forests and appreciate the natural areas,” says Lorna Radcliff, recreation specialist at the Florida Forest Service, which oversees over a million acres of state forest.
“The geocaching community is environmentally conscious and we work with them pretty closely,” says Andrusyk, who reports that restoration workdays in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County often draw more than a couple dozen volunteers to fight invasive plants or tackle other projects. “I’m amazed at the distance that these folks will travel to go and help out for a couple hours and then they go geocaching for the rest of the day,” he says.
A geocacher finding a virtual cache and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Credit: Kappa Pi Sigma
IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING NEW
Among the best draws of geocaching is its call to explore new places. “I think there are a lot of people who wouldn’t get out into the forest if it weren’t for geocaches,” says Radcliff.
In addition, geocaching makes hikers more aware of their surroundings. “If you go out in the woods looking for something, you’re certainly going to notice more of the rocks, birds and trees, especially if you’re looking for something you expect to be the size of a film canister,” Feakes says.
Along the way, geocachers can learn about cultural history and geology, and view wildlife they wouldn’t normally see. For instance, Prebeck and Stephenson saw their first black bear last summer on a geocaching quest in the Shenandoah Mountains.
“Geocaching takes me to hidden waterfalls, beautiful views, cool historic things,” Wolfe says. “I see so much I would never have even known about — places like a pioneer cemetery with graves from the 1850s, near a ghost town in the middle of nowhere.”
It’s all because someone placed a cache nearby and said “check this out,” explains Wolfe. “If you read some of the logs, people write ‘I would never have stopped here if it wasn’t for this cache, and would have missed this beautiful waterfall or this beautiful dam.’”
Geocachers go out into the woods searching for a cache, but they end up finding so much more.
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia. Learn more about her work at www.carriemadren.com.
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