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SoVaNow.com / July 21, 2014It was a complete accidental geocache find. The clear box was tucked away in the nook and cranny of a tree near the Terrace Garden trail at Occoneechee State Park in Clarksville. The moment it was opened, multiple cards with images of leaves, a notebook, pencil, and a few other knick-knacks from other treasure seekers inspired a squeal of delight from a 10-year-old girl and huge grins from mom and dad.
It marked the beginnings of one family joining more than six million other geocachers searching worldwide for hidden treasure in the great outdoors.
Geocaching is international, and possibly universal. Occoneechee welcomed international visitors on Monday, July 14 from Belgium. The Serbest family of Linter, Belgium was wrapping up three weeks of touring the East Coast and decided to camp in the area. Kerim and Lieve with their four children Yoran, 11, Ilyas, 13, Iris, 15, and Sara, 18, were making the most of their stay — bird watching, learning about the Native American culture in the Commonwealth, and taking a few minutes looking for a local cache.
Kerim said that connecting to the historical peoples of the region and exploring the natural surroundings were two of the many reasons to explore the world outdoors.
When studies first showed home entertainment systems were keeping people indoors, Global Positioning Systems surfaced more than 20 years ago. A GPS network of 24 U.S. Air Force satellites, the last of which was launched in 1993, made it possible for people not only to navigate more accurately in their vehicles, but also to use handheld GPS receivers to explore the great outdoors.
The fun of exploring evolved into a rewarding experience that combined technology, nature, and man-made treasures.
The phenomenon, dubbed “geocaching,” has become a worldwide activity. There are currently 2,445,551 active geocaches around the world. Searching for a cache involves using handheld GPS devices, following clues, solving riddles, and visiting multiple outdoor locations. Several recreational organizations at the national, state, and county levels now offer geocaching as an activity for adventure-seekers.
To get started in Halifax County (or anywhere), go to http://www.geocaching.com, and create a free account. You must log in to an account to view cache-site details. The website lists all of the maintained caches by ZIP code and address. Input a ZIP code to see the caches hidden within that area. There are also “geotrails” which are caches tied together by a common theme.
You can enter your home address to see what’s nearby, or enter the address of a specific site that you find interesting, such as Staunton River Battlefield State Park (1035 Fort Hill Trail, Randolph, VA 23962-9801.Latitude, 36.88629. Longitude, -78.70353). The state park, a 300-acre Civil War historic site, with two visitor centers featuring 2,300-square feet of Civil War heritage, Native American archaeological investigations and electric energy production exhibits, as well as two trails throughout the park with wildlife observation towers overlooking wetlands, offers many activities including geocaching.
The geocache website will give the date the cache was placed, the nature of the terrain, the last time it was found, and other attributes. Hunting for treasure is not limited to one state park. In fact, most state parks have at least one geocache within its boundaries. Usually it is in the woods along a hiking trail in a small clear container with a log book to sign.
At Staunton River Battlefield State Park there are 11 caches that are part of two geotrails throughout the park. “One is a historic theme, and the other is a nature theme,” explained Park Interpreter George Jefferson. “We only leave the reward in the last box. As they go through the locations, they have to read the clue to find the next cache box.”
If you don’t want to invest in a personal GPS unit, which costs less than $100, you can use an iPhone or an Android app. It may not be quite as accurate as the traditional GPS, but it seems to work for most who use the apps.
Jefferson explained that Pocket Ranger is a popular app for mobile users. The good news is that you can also rent a GPS at any Virginia State Park you visit. They are usually available except when they are reserved for a park program or for a group activity.
The park offices and visitor centers are open on limited daytime hours, so call ahead if you are planning to rent a unit. The units’ rental cost at SRBSP is $5 for the day. (The price varies at other Virginia State Parks.)
Be sure to download the site coordinates to your handheld GPS (or smartphone) and/or print out any helpful information to take with you to the site. The container can sometimes be easily found and it is clearly marked with a label explaining that it is a cache with a reward or another clue. After your visit, remember to log back in at http://www.geocaching.com to claim your find and to mention what you have left.
At Virginia State Parks:
The informative, user-friendly website http://www.virginiaoutdoors.com exists as a public-private partnership to support outdoor agencies and organizations through donations. It showcases a Virginia State Parks Birding Adventure Geocaching Program on the left side of the home page: look for the link below the Osprey Cam.
Again, you can also download the free app to the Official VA State Parks, which is also available for either iPhone and Android devices.
Each of Virginia’s state parks has a special geocache with a collectors card that is unique to that park. Collect five cards from different parks and you can get a special prize; there are more prizes at the 10-park and 20-park and all-park levels. “The reward from us is a playing card that is associated with the park itself, each state park has its trading card. We have four or five cards we use that show wildlife, birds, and plants that are in the park,” Jefferson said.
The rules are for any geocaching adventure: if you take something from the cache, leave something of equal or greater value. Most cachers leave small items such as key chains, patches, and little plastic toys. Be sure to sign the log book, put the geocache back exactly where you found it, and later log your experience online at geocache.com. It’s that easy.
Jefferson added that he checks on the caches weekly to remove any natural debris that might obscure the site and to replenish the cache stock if needed. Sometimes he will see additional “tokens” that visitors have left inside the cache. “Some folks leave behind a token that they’ve been there,” he said.
Most parks do offer programs for the geocache beginner and intermediate level. It is highly recommended to make early reservations for this fun adventure. You can visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/ for times and reservations. For guidelines and an application for placing a cache in Virginia State Parks as well as other helpful information, go to http://www.dcr.virginia.gove/state_parks/geocache.shtml.
A good habit to teach: “Cache In, Trash Out”
Geocaching is an inexpensive way to entertain multiple-age groups. Most geocachers add to the excitement by treating it as a treasure hunt of sorts. Sometimes they also move a found item from one cache into another called “trackables” and see how far the item travels. These are also called travel bugs and tokens. One was found in Virginia that had traveled all the way from Europe.
Also, cachers are mindful of the environment. It is encouraged practice that if they see litter while on their search they usually place it where it belongs — in the garbage. It’s another way of keeping these sites natural and friendly for the next round of visitors in search of outdoor treasure.
Happy hunting for cache!
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