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Geocachers unearth hidden treasures across county
Scavenger-style hunt entertains adults, children alike
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Park manager Will Wagner uncovers the official geocache at Don Carter State Park. More than 40 state parks across Georgia contain geocaches located off trails within the parks. Places in cities and counties across the United States also have hidden treasures for geocachers to find. - photo by Erin O. Smith

How to geocache

  • Register at www.geocaching.com
  • Visit “Hide & Seek a Cache” page.
  • Enter postal code and click “search.”
  • Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
  • Enter the coordinates of the geocache into GPS Device.
  • Use GPS device to find hidden geocache.
  • Sign logbook and return the geocache to its original location.
  • Share geocaching stories and photos online.

A treasure hunt doesn’t require a voyage to a deserted island or foreign country. People all across the state can partake in a search for hidden treasures through the new trend of geocaching, a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game.

Instead of a map with “X” marking the spot, geocachers use a GPS device or app with specific coordinates to find buried treasure left by others.

Geocaching started in May 2000 as a way to test the public use of satellites for GPS purposes. Computer consultant Dave Ulmer decided to hide a navigational target in the woods and test the GPS system, according to the geocaching website, www.geocaching.com. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it in an Internet GPS users’ group. From there, geocaching was born.

Cameron Denson, the naturalist at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, began geocaching nine months ago. She said she loves the challenge of finding different caches.

“Everywhere I go, I look around to see what’s there,” she said. “I found one at The Varsity in Atlanta recently and another when I went down to St. Augustine (Fla.).”

Denson said the caches come in all shapes and sizes. Some are just a journal or logbook in a park, while others contain trinkets for children.

“Some items are large, but some are as small as dice and in remote locations,” said Will Wagner, manager at Don Carter State Park.

Denson said caches in cities are especially challenging to find because coordinates can lead you to a place with many floors.

“The one at The Varsity was confusing because the parking deck is two stories,” Denson said. “I spent forever looking in the bottom deck.”

As Don Carter’s park manager, Wagner is responsible for the hidden items in the Gainesville recreational area. The official cache at Don Carter is in an artillery box and is handicap accessible. But the state park in Hall County is not alone; an artillery box contains a treasure at 44 Georgia state parks and historic sites.

Don Carter also has more than the single official cache site sponsored by state parks. Groups have installed more than a dozen more caches in the two years the park has been open.

“We have a group called GeoCampers that come through, and they’ve put in more of the geocaches,” Wagner said. “All of ours are within the 130 developed acres in the center of the park.”

The geocaching groups and state park naturalists care for the caches, ensuring they are hidden and hunters are following the rules. Sometimes, volunteers will move caches if they become too easy to find.

“There used to be one under one of these benches by the lake,” Wagner said. “Someone has come in here and moved it.”

To find the items, novice hunters may use their smartphones. But avid geocachers get closer with a GPS system.

“There are good ones for the avid people that run about $100,” Wagner said. “For others, there is a free app you can download that will tell you how many satellites you are picking up. The more satellites you can get, the closer it will get you to the exact coordinates.”

For first-timers wanting a guided experience, state parks have a “GeoTour” program in the visitors center with a “passport” that can be stamped.

“Each official cache has a different stamp,” Wagner said. “When you find it at a park, you fill out the journal and stamp your passport. When you get 15, you can send off for a bronze coin, 30 gets you a silver coin, and 40 gets you the gold coin.”

Geocaches not part of the statewide GeoTour, however, still offer small prizes.

“The general principle is take a trinket, leave a trinket,” Wagner said. “They’re usually fun things for kids like a toy soldier, squirt gun, bouncy balls or jewelry.”

At all geocache sites, participants may fill out the journal at each, telling who found each one and when. They may also log their experience on the website.

Wagner said most participants, young and old, find the experience enjoyable. He said children are thrilled to find the “treasure,” while adults like the challenge.

Wagner pointed out most of the time geocaching is a cheap or even free activity. At state parks, hunters need only pay the parking fee. The hunt and trails are free once inside the park.

Some parks, he said, have GPS devices for rental. At this time, however, renting a GPS is not available at Don Carter.

“The majority of people use their phones,” he said. “They can come out here and walk the trails and search for caches in the morning when it’s cooler and then spend time on the beach when it gets hot in the afternoon. You can do it all without any special equipment.”

Denson generally uses an app and website when she goes geocaching. But she goes on guided park tours to help people find the GeoTour cache and some of the other unique finds.

“You log in to the app and it finds your location and gives you the coordinates for the caches closest to you,” Denson said. “Most of them here are less than 100 feet off of a trail.”

Denson noted Fort Yargo has 15 to 20 caches in a 3-mile radius, including a unique one in a tree trunk near a trail. She hopes to install more caches near the location to create a tour experience.

“I would like to add five or six so people can do a scavenger hunt on that one trail,” Denson said.

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