The Racine Journal Times has also published an article about the introduction to geocaching "class" held at Bong Recreation Area on June 3rd.
[url=http://www.journaltimes.com/articles/2006/06/09/local_sports/outdoors/iq_4077360.txt]Link To Article[/url]
(Just in case it goes away...)
The latest craze: Geocaching catching on like wildfire
By Paul Smith
Wearing the bright green dress of late spring and brushed by the golden rays of the setting sun, the pond at Richard Bong State Recreation Area was a sight to behold last Saturday.
Peaceful. Scenic. Vibrant.
Those were fine as far as words go. But sometimes you need a number to really define a place. For the Engel family of Racine, this was one of those times. And the number? That would be N42 38.021 W88 7.410.
With Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers in hand, Nate (8 years old) and Hannah (7) Engel led their parents, Joe and Polina, onto the fishing pier of the pond. As they approached the precise latitude and longitude coordinates of the site, they began to look for the hidden treasure that is the end game of their newest hobby.
It's called geocaching, an outdoors activity that combines the high-tech capabilities of GPS and the traditional allure of treasure hunting. The Engels had come to Bong for an introductory seminar and outing offered by the Wisconsin Geocaching Association.
"It's a way for people who like technology and like to work with computers to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer," said Brian Geoffrey, treasurer of the WGA.
The bare essence of geocaching, said Geoffrey, goes like this: a weatherproof container (known as a geocache or simply cache) is hidden outside, the location is published on the Internet and people go and find it. The location might be next door, or it might be at the end of a long hike through remote country.
"You decide where you want to look and how difficult a site you want to go to," said Geoffrey, who lives in New Berlin. "It's fun for families and it helps us get outside for exercise."
Geoffrey led a 30-minute seminar in the Visitor's Center at Bong prior to releasing the Engels and about 20 other guests and volunteers to find 18 caches on the property.
Geocaching is a relatively new activity. Its roots can be traced to the May 1, 2000 declassification of GPS satellites by the U.S. government. As of that day, civilians with a GPS unit can get within 30 feet of any location.
Within days, American citizens were using Web sites to post the coordinates of places where they had hidden things. Others saw the postings, found the object and geocaching was born.
In the intervening years, the activity has grown exponentially in popularity. Several Web sites are dedicated to the activity (see inset) and there are more than 200,000 documented caches in over 200 countries.
The appeal seems to cut several ways. It gives outdoor enthusiasts something to look for while they are hiking. And it gives techies the opportunity to use a GPS unit while getting exercise.
Geocaches typically contain trinkets and a log book. The rules of the game dictate that participants record their names and time of visit, and that if they take a prize, they replace it with one of equal or greater value. They then replace the container in the same place they found it.
"It helps us get out to places we would probably never visit," Geoffrey said. "I used to just giggle at the sign for Bong before I started geocaching. Now I've been here several times on the trails."
The attraction, Geoffrey says, lies in the excitement of discovery.
"It makes most of us feel like kids," Geoffrey said. "And it has given me quality outdoor time with my daughter."
Geoffrey ran through a list of geocaching "do's and don'ts." Do get permission to access private property, fill a cache with family-friendly objects, respect the environment. Don't bury a cache, place a cache where you don't have permission or put items such as knives or food in a cache.
Geocachers also are encouraged to practice "CITO," which stands for "cache in, trash out."
"We'd like geocachers to carry a bag with them and pick up any trash they see," Geoffrey said.
Although the Engels didn't have much GPS experience before Saturday, they quickly learned to follow the directions of the hand-held devices. "The hardest part was telling the kids which one could get to the cache first," Polina said.
They also got a lesson in coordinates - not only are there "x" and "y," but also "z." The object they were looking for near the pond, a waterproof bottle with prizes inside, was directly below them, affixed to the pier supports.
With a little help from Dave Secondino of Rochester and Russ Johnson of Kenosha, volunteer guides for the evening, the Engels found what they were looking for.
Over the course of the evening, the family hiked about two miles and found about 10 caches. Some were nestled in the crotches of trees, others in a hollow tree trunk, some on magnetic signs.
"The kids wanted to keep going," Polina said. "I have to agree, it was fun."
Although the Engels don't yet own a GPS unit, they are looking at purchasing one.
"If you ask the kids if they want to go hiking, they usually say `no'," said Polina, whose children are active in soccer and baseball but not always keen to hit the trails. "But if you ask if they want to go on a treasure hunt, I think they'll say `yes.' ''
A GEOCACHING PRIMER: Sometimes called "21st century treasure hunting," geocaching is an outdoor activity in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to find hidden containers called "geocaches" or simply "caches."
Although geocaching in its present form is relatively new, it is quite popular in the U.S. and abroad. According to recent counts, there are over 200,000 documented caches spread across all 50 states and in over 200 countries. As of this week, an Internet search turned up 1,741 caches within 50 miles of downtown Racine. The activity begins by downloading GPS coordinates for a cache from a geocaching Web site.
Then, with the aid of a handheld GPS, participants go afield to find the cache. The trip may involve a short walk in a nearby city park or a long hike through a remote forest.
The caches are typically small waterproof containers such as Tupperware or ammo cans and often contain a logbook and small, inexpensive trinkets.
Geocachers record their find in the logbook and may take one of the trinkets, providing they also leave something behind.
To learn more, log on to http://www.geocaching.com, the most-visited geocaching Web site, or contact the Wisconsin Geocaching Association on its Web site at http://www.wi-geocaching.com The WGA organizes geocaching events, works with landowners and managers on geocaching policies and educates the public about geocaching. If you're looking for an upcoming event, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee will hold an introductory geocaching class June 10.
Space is limited so please register in advance. Call the center at (414) 352-2880 Ext. 138 to register or for more information.