A new outdoor game has park officials worried. Geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt: one person hides something and records its location using its latitude and longitude. They post the coordinates on the Internet, and others are encouraged to go and look for it. Often these hidden treasures, called caches, are put in parks. Some park officials worry that the sport threatens plant and animal habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
A new outdoor game has park officials worried. Geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt: one
person hides something and records its location using its latitude and longitude. They post the
coordinates on the Internet, and others are encouraged to go and look for it. Often these hidden
treasures, called caches, are put in parks. Some park officials worry that the sport threatens plant
and animal habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
A small tupperware container is hidden in the hollow of an old tree. The global coordinates of
the tree are posted on the Internet. Hundreds of individuals will download these coordinates and
then head out in search of this tupperware treasure. They will take one trinket from the
tupperware as a souvenir, and leave another in its place. This is geocaching.
Geocaching is an excuse to get outdoors. It’s a way to discover beautiful spots you might not find
on your own. And it’s a way to have fun using new technology. To find the hidden containers,
known as caches, you use a global positioning system, or GPS device.
Arol McCaslin is a park manager at Forestville Mystery Cave State Park in Minnesota. He
explains how global positioning systems work.
“There’s a bunch of satellites orbiting the earth, they relay a radio signal and your GPS unit
basically figures out where you are on the earth.”
GPS was originally set up for military use, but in 2000 the signal was made available to the
public. Within two days, the first geocache was hidden outside Portland, Oregon. Today there
are more than 67,000 caches hidden in nearly 200 countries. McCaslin discovered geocaching a
year ago when caches started turning up in State Parks.
“We weren’t quite sure what to make if it. We weren’t sure if a geocache hidden in one of these
areas would do damage to the resource, safety aspects, if these caches were being located at the
edge of cliffs or if they’d have to climb down – just a whole mess of stuff that we felt we had to
address before we could even think about letting geocachers into state parks.”
Minnesota was one state that banned geocaching in state parks shortly after learning the sport
existed. But in the next couple of months, they will begin issuing permits allowing a limited
number of caches to be placed once again within state park boundaries. Arol McCaslin was one
of three people who drafted the policy. He has also become a geocacher himself. We followed
him on a cache hunt just outside the park where he works.
“All right now, I’m looking at my GPS unit and it’s telling me we’re going in the right direction.”
McCaslin parked his truck a quarter mile from the cache. We strolled down a bike path along the
Rut River, following his hand-held GPS device.
The Rut River is down on our right, highway and cliff is on our left. It’s hotter than heck today
and I’m sweating like a pig.”
Our search led us to a tunnel underneath the bike path.
“Well I would almost say that it’s through the tunnel here. (footsteps echoing in the tunnel) Oh,
this is cool, isn’t it? It’s actually cool in here!”
Once through the tunnel, McCasslin climbed up some rocks to look for the cache, but had a hard
time finding it.
We’ll return to his adventures in a moment, but first let’s look at how other states are handling
geocaching. In Wisconsin, some fans of the game formed the Wisconsin Geocaching
Association. T hey are working out their own geocaching policy with the Wisconsin DNR. Ken
Braband is President of the group. He says not everyone understands what geocaching is all
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions on the part of some park officials. We knew that if we
wanted to keep from happening in Wisconsin what has happened in other states such as
Minnesota, where they’ve banned it in state parks, we needed to be proactive and work with our
local parks managers and let ’em know what geocaching is all about, let ’em know the value of it
Braband says geocaching is a great way to draw more people into the parks. The majority of
geocachers, he says, enjoy nature and want to protect it. His group and similar groups around the
country promote responsible geocaching. Bryan Roth, who helps run the main geocaching
website, gives an example of what that means.
“You know, we’ve got a policy that’s called cache in, trash out. We encourage geocachers when
they go out geocaching to bring a trash bag and pick up some trash on the way out and leave the
park a little bit better than it was when you found it.”
Roth’s website is where people can post or download the coordinates of where different caches
are hidden. The website, geocaching.com, provides guidelines for hiding caches in ways that
won’t threaten the safety of the environment or of other geocachers. People are encouraged to ask
for permission before hiding caches in parks. They are also asked to remove caches if heavy
traffic starts to wear a trail to a spot where a cache is hidden.
“It’s more likely on this side of the tunnel than the other side (crunching grass in background)
Look out, I’m coming down here, no telling how quick!”
Back on the geocaching trail with Arol McCasslin, he was unable to find the cache near the
tunnel under the bike trail, but he was successful in finding another cache a quarter mile down the
“Right now in the cache there’s, it looks like there’s some kind of decal, we’ve got all kinds of
pens, we’ve got a little, an NFL trading card with Moe Williams on it.”
He noted his success in the cache’s logbook and later plans to get more information from the
website and go back for the cache he missed.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.