Treasure Hunting In Our Treasured Places

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Technology is often accused of turning people into couch potatoes. There’s no question that far too many folks spend far too much time in front of computers, TVs and video games – and not enough time outdoors getting fresh air and exercise.

But one technology that’s become a must-have for many motorists is also getting people outside.

[smartads]

Global positioning system (GPS) devices and smart phone applications are drawing adventure-minded users to “geocaching.” Geocaching (pronounced GEE-oh-cash-ing) takes the best of hiking and adds a twist that’s hard to resist – a GPS-powered treasure hunt!

Geocaching began in 2000 when GPS coordinates for the first documented “cache” location in Oregon were posted online. Ten years later, over 1.2 million active geocaches are hidden around the world and published on websites.  These “little treasure chests” can be found in over 100 countries and on all seven continents, including Antarctica!

A typical geocache can be as large as an ammo box or as small as a pencil eraser.  Larger caches often contain log books that serve as guestbooks of those who find them.  Cache contents are extremely diverse – from business cards to toys and trinkets.  Some contain commemorative coins or tokens.  If you want to take something from a geocache, etiquette dictates that you leave something similar in its place for the next seeker.  So don’t trade a toy car for a pebble you found along the trail… unless it’s a REALLY cool pebble.

Some of the items in the caches – and some caches themselves – are meant to travel.  Geocoins, for example, have unique identification numbers so you can track their adventures as they are found, moved and logged online.  Similarly, “travel bug” tags with unique ID’s can be attached to almost anything, and have goals like travelling to all of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Progress is tracked online.

Caches are hidden in all kinds of places, but locating them near hiking trails is popular.  Small caches might turn up in a rock cleft, under a fallen tree, or in a hollow stump.

There are many variations on mainstream geocaching, so it’s an outdoor hobby that might never grow old!  Start your geocache hunt in five easy steps:

  1. Register at a geocaching website, like www.geocaching.com.
  2. Search the site’s online database for caches near your favorite trail, or let the caches that appeal to you help you pick a hike.
  3. Enter the geocache coordinates into a GPS.  Dedicated devices cost a few hundred dollars, or you can download an application for your iPhone.
  4. Find that geocache!  Sign the logbook, make your trades of cache items, and return the geocache to its original location.
  5. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

If you were lucky enough to get a GPS this holiday season, you can use it for fun hiking and fitness.  What better way to spend an afternoon than enjoying the natural splendor of the state we’re in as you hunt for hidden treasures!

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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