Looking for a family activity this summer that blends the technological with the great outdoors? Why not try geocaching? Part real world treasure hunt, part online tracking game, geocaching has grown in popularity since its inception in 2000. There are now participants in 225 countries worldwide.
Just what is geocaching? The name, derived from the words “geo” for earth and “cache” for a hiding place is an activity that involves stowing away and searching for caches or “treasure”. These caches can take the form of “micros”, really small caches, or larger boxes that contain trinkets and other loot for finders.
Participants find the location of caches by looking online for the GPS coordinates and then using a GPS device as simple as the one found in many phones to go in search of the caches.
Jersey has three Geocaching chapters. Madison resident John Neale, president of the Northern New Jersey Cachers, weighs in on just why this activity is so appealing for adults and children alike. “Kids catch on fast to geocaching. They get very excited in the buildup to finding a cache, and once that cache is found, kids want to move on to the next search! It becomes very addicting!” Kids love the trinkets and other inexpensive jewelry or toys in the caches that can make great trading amongst friends. For kids, opening a cache is like opening treasure!
According to Neale, there are chapter-run geocaching activities going on almost every weekend in New Jersey. “The community becomes very close-knit. This past spring there were 125 people at the Northern New Jersey Cachers spring picnic in Chatham.”
While the search for treasure is a practice as old as humanity, this particular brand of treasure hunting, dependent as it is upon GPS data, needed the accuracy of our present GPS devices to allow such mass-market participation. According to geocaching.com, in 2000, GPS became available to individual and civilian users in the U.S. It was only a matter of a few short months for technologically minded individuals to create the concept of geocaching and then create a website that would facilitate and centralize the activity.
The best part about geocaching is that interested people can become involved at whatever level they wish. There are fanatics who post daily, go to events and track caches all over the world. One retiree Neale knows has been geocaching for 1200 consecutive days. The man treats it like a job and has logged 10,000 cache finds. And then there are those who prefer to simply search for caches locally on a more recreational basis.
One Montclair mom shares her insights on geocaching, requesting to remain anonymous, because, she points out, “Anonymity is part of the intrigue!” She began geocaching after seeing an episode of Fetch with Ruff Ruffman. “My 6-year-old is very interested in maps and has been leaving scavenger hunt type notes around the house during the summer break. I looked up the website geocaching.com, which was free to join, and all you needed was a GPS device.” Soon, she and her son were hooked.
“It really has potential as a fun family activity. You don’t need map reading skills since it involves GPS technology, and the caches are rated by difficulty and terrain levels. You can do it on vacation too. Since some of the caches may be remote, I think it’s safe as a group activity.”
Part of the fun is the “covert” nature of the activity. Says this mom, “People (and other creatures) that don’t participate are often referred to as Muggles (as in the non-magical folks of Harry Potterism). It’s hard to find Muggle-free times in an urban area!”
Log on here to find out more about this great family activity. And then get out there!
Meetings for the Northern New Jersey Cachers are on the first Monday of each month at Fuddruckers in Parsippany.
Cynthia Darling is a freelance writer whose work appears in “Teaching Music” magazine. She is also a frequent contributor at Barista Kids