Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
So what’s this Geocaching thing anyway?
Get your family in on the fun of this unique treasure hunt enhanced by technology
By Rob Levey
Everybody loves a treasure hunt, a fact that has quite literally put the game of Geocaching on the map with millions of participants worldwide.
What is Geocaching?
A real-world outdoor treasure hunting game in which players use hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to locate hidden containers, referred to as geocaches, and share their experience online. Geocaching takes place in both urban and natural surroundings.
According to Deb Humiston, owner of Ultimate Treasure Hunts, which offers corporate, school, and family-based Geocaching challenges, team-building games and experiential activities, Geocaching is especially suited for families.
“I think the absolute best thing about Geocaching is that it is something families can do together,” said Humiston, who noted the game does not require “much more than a simple lesson once you have the equipment.”
“It gets everyone outside and it is physical exercise.”
Kids in particular are attracted to anything new, especially when it comes to technology. Humiston said the idea of treasure in any form also attracts adults.
Mark LaClaire, executive director of the Lincoln Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, which recently hosted the third annual Northeast Geocache Bash, agrees with Humiston and said the game appeals to his family on several levels.
“For kids, you get that instant gratification, while dads get to mess around with a piece of electronics,” he said. “Moms are happy, too, because they get the kids outside and everyone can do something as a family.”
Humiston said Geocaching also provides an opportunity for many adults to approach technology.
“It seems to me, after many, many years of teaching with GPS and maps, that geocaching is a doorway for curiosity and a great way to overcome, if you are willing, the fear of technology,” she said. “But you have to take that first step.”
How does Geocaching work?
Using the government's space-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS), Geocachers input the coordinates of the hidden object or cache into a GPS-enabled device.
According to Wayne Moulton, who facilitates Geocaching programs for schools, after-school programs, and libraries, participants can then follow an arrow on the screen of the GPS unit to find the “hidden treasure.”
Upon locating the geocache, Moulton said players are able to trade items of equal or greater value, sign a physical logbook, and consequently log their visit at geocaching.com.
As for what sort of treasure one might find in a geocache, LaClaire said items range from little toys and trinkets to keychains and in some cases rare coins.
He noted geocachers may also find “trackables,” which are items etched with a unique code that can be used to log their movements on Geocaching.com as it travels in the real world.
“Some of these things have been all over the world,” he said. “It’s pretty neat to follow that.”
According to geocaching.com, cache items “should be individually packaged in a clear, zipped plastic bag to protect them from the elements.”
What are the benefits to Geocaching?
Noting that participants learn about latitude and longitude as well as how to use a map and compass to navigate, Moulton said Geocaching also teaches kids “you don't need to do something really expensive to have a good time.”
Also citing its inherent affordability as a family activity, LaClaire added that Geocaching fosters a sense of camaraderie among players regardless of their location.
“For the most part, it’s a social thing,” he said. “People can communicate with others online and share their experiences. Some treasures are also trackable and get logged so you can see your items in some cases travel across the world.”
For Humiston, the greatest benefits from Geocaching derive from the game’s roots in the sport of orienteering, which she said requires the use of a map to locate objects in the terrain and forms the entire basis for her company, UTH.
“The prevalent and obvious benefits are there is no right way to get from one place to another and how you see the terrain and the choices you make are unique to you and your perception,” she said.
In working to overcome obstacles or challenges in orienteering or in Geocaching, she said both kids and adults benefit from an increased sense of self-confidence.
She now offers text message-based treasure hunts through UTH in which participants “send and receive pre-programmed text messages in a live interactive hide and seek game,” adding that the principle behind this and any other similar treasure hunt game is the same.
“Whether you participate in the GPS hunts, the orienteering or the text message games, these hunts are providing opportunities for everyone to teach and everyone to learn,” she said. “They are about having fun together.”
Rob Levey is the director of development and communications at Seacoast Mental Health Center and a freelance writer.
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Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Jun 27, 2011.