The Go-To Guide to Geocaching
Randy Spears and his daughters like to treasure hunt.
But the Westerville family doesn't search for gold or jewels. Dad and the girls - Katie, 14, and Emma, 10 - hunt for trinkets and logbooks, Spears said.
And, what's more, they use technology to do it. Spears and his daughters are "geocachers" - people who use a global positioning system (GPS) device to search for hidden containers called "caches."
Anyone with a GPS device can participate in geocaching by visiting geocaching.com, a website that lists the coordinates of caches and provides hints to help searchers find them. The site, operated by Groundspeak, Inc., is considered by many geocachers to be the No. 1 resource for information, although some GPS manufacturers also discuss the topic on their websites.
The hints are necessary because the accuracy of GPS devices ranges from about six to 20 feet. Once users arrive at the right location, they need to search for the containers, which are often camouflaged and hidden in bushes, trees or other out-of-sight spots.
Spears recalled a cache where the hint was: "Why are you looking down there?" It was a tricky but valid question, Spears said, because the cache was hanging from a rope in a tree.
Caches usually contain a logbook for finders to sign and date, as well as trinkets for them to take. Anyone who removes something from a cache is expected to leave something of equal or greater value.
The baubles in the caches motivate Spears' daughters to participate, said their father. Typical "swag," as geocachers call it, includes small inexpensive toys like marbles, Silly Bandz or army men.
Since Spears knows his girls like to find prizes, he avoids caches where the hider describes them as "micro" or "nano" because he knows that means the container will be too small for goodies.
"They don't like the ones where there's just a logbook," Spears said.
He likes the activity because it gets the kids outside.
"My kids tend to be more screen people. They're into computers, TV and DS. I love that this gets them out in the fresh air," said Spears, who has hunted for caches in five states. He typically looks up caches in places that he is visiting with his family to make the trip more interesting.
Geocaching has really taken off locally, said Jill Snyder, a naturalist at Three Creeks Metro Park in Groveport. She has planted several caches in the park and even purchased a set of GPS devices to teach the skill to park visitors.
"We've started including geocaching and GPS into a lot of our park programs," Snyder said. "It's really catching on. It's a neat way to get people out into the park."
Geocaching is an affordable and fun activity for families, she said. GPS units range in price from $50 to $600 depending on what features are included. Electronics stores or larger discount stores carry the units. Some smartphones also have applications for geocaching that can be downloaded.
Members of the geocaching.com website have created a forum where they review various devices, Spears said. The discussions are a good source of information for anyone interested in purchasing a unit.
Some manufacturers have started making handheld GPS units designed for kids to use to geocache, Snyder said.
"People are often surprised that it's pretty inexpensive. Once you buy a GPS, it's all free," she said. "You might think only kids or adults would enjoy this, but even younger kids can participate."
• Visit geocaching.com and create an account. A basic membership is free.
• Once you've joined, you can enter your zip code to locate a cache near you.
• Follow the driving directions to the cache's location.
• Plug in the coordinates and walk to the spot. (Remember that GPS coordinates can vary by up to 20 feet.)
• Once you've located the area, look around for the cache. (People who place caches often give hints to help you find them.)
• When you find the cache, sign the logbook. Only remove something if you leave something in its place.
• Log back onto geocaching.com and indicate that you found the cache.
Source: Jill Snyder, naturalist with Three Creeks Metro Park
DNF (Did Not Find): An acronym used by geocachers to state that they did not find a cache. This is also a type of online log on geocaching.com and is useful for alerting cache owners of potential issues. Cache owners who repeatedly receive "Did Not Find" logs should check to see that their cache has not been removed.
Muggle: A non-geocacher. Based on the word "muggle" from the Harry Potter series, which is a non-magical person. Usually this term is used when a non-geocacher looks puzzled after befriending a geocacher searching for a cache, or when a non-geocacher accidentally finds a cache. Geomuggles are mostly harmless.
SWAG: An acronym often referred to as meaning "Stuff We All Get." It includes the trade items left in caches by geocachers.