Geocaching is an outdoor hobby that's part exploration, part scavenger hunt and all fun. It's also the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day April 22. With geocaches in southcentral Pa. places, including Spring Grove, it's easy to get in on the hunt.
How it works
Geocaches are small containers, ranging in size from tiny capsules to large boxes, that are hidden all over the world by other geocachers. You use a GPS device or the geocaching app to find them. Once you locate a cache, you sign the paper inside with your unique geocaching handle, and log your find in the app or on the website.
Did that hurt your brain? Geocaching can be confusing at first. After you find a few, it becomes not only easier, but addictive. Pretty soon you're planning your vacation around special digital souvenirs or GeoTours, where towns or parks have placed their own caches in hopes of attracting tourists.
Jenn Seva, who manages GeoTours at Geocaching Headquarters, said, "To all those people who do not yet know about geocaching, I invite you to join us. It’s a modern scavenger hunt with almost three million targets all around the world. I bet some of those are within walking distance of your house."
What to do
Go to the geocaching website and register for a free membership. Choose your unique geocaching handle, upload an avatar, and enter some basic information. Now you're a geocacher!
You can find and log geocaches in two different ways, The first way is through the website. Click "Play" and then "Find a geocache" to locate caches near you. You can note GPS coordinates or print a geocache's info, then use your phone or GPS device to find them. But you'll need to come back to the website when you get home to log them.
An easier way to find and log geocaches is to download the official app. That way, when you're out and about, you can check the app to see if there are any geocaches nearby. The app will show free members a limited number of geocaches. If you want to find more challenging geocaches, you'll have to spring for the $30 Premium Membership. (Trust me, it's worth it.)
Ryan Beaverson, a York resident, started geocaching almost a year ago. In that short time, he's racked up nearly 500 finds. He got interested in geocaching when he accidentally found a cache while hiking the Mason-Dixon Trail. The geocaching website was written on the box. "When I got home, I did a little research. I have been hooked ever since," he said.
Being stealthy is an important part of geocaching. Non-geocachers are referred to as Muggles. You don't want Muggles removing a cache because they don't understand the game, or have them calling the authorities because your activity looks suspicious.
Where to go
When you're just starting to geocache, it's a good idea to partner with an experienced cacher, who can show you a variety of hides. If you're on your own, you should focus on finding caches that are rated a one-star or two-star difficulty.
After you have some experience finding a bunch of different geocaches, the adventure really begins! Geocaching takes you to unexpected places. Puzzle geocaches require you to do some thinking to get the right coordinates, while multi-stage caches direct you from one location to another to find clues that lead you to your final destination.
Geocaching members can award caches with favorite points. To find a really special cache, use the website's search filters to find caches with the highest number of favorite points. The most-favorited cache in Lancaster County is one that attracts players from all over the country. Raiders of the Lost Cache, with nearly 600 favorite points, is hidden in a cave in Governor Dick Park in Mount Gretna. As it's name suggests, the container is a life-size Ark of the Covenant, with fake cobwebs, snakes, spiders and other creatures protecting it. I found Raiders of the Lost Cache on my third attempt, and it was worth all the scratches and bruises I got trying to find it.
GeoTours are lots of fun, and there's one nearby in Spring Grove. The Spring Grove GeoTour includes a variety of cool caches, including one you can only find after listening to clues on a special radio station. And because the whole town is in on the GeoTour, you don't have to worry about being sneaky.
Geocaching will be easier if you have a few extra items, in addition to your phone or GPS device. A flashlight is handy for shining into shadowy or dark spaces. Tweezers will help you grab and nab stubborn paper logs that won't come out of their containers. Some geocachers use a tool like a dentist's mirror to help them investigate the underside of guard rails or other difficult-to-reach spots.
Because geocaching is generally done outdoors, basic hiking supplies are helpful to have too. Bug repellent, Band-Aids, hand sanitizer or wipes, sunscreen and good walking shoes will make geocaching much more enjoyable. Most importantly, bring a bottle of water with you to make sure you stay hydrated.
Celebrate Earth Day
Every year, Geocaching Headquarters encourages geocachers to host an event called Cache in Trash Out (CITO). Players gather at specific coordinates, usually a park, where they pick up trash and clean up the "playing board." Players who attend a CITO receive a digital souvenir from Geocaching Headquarters that's displayed in their profile. Seva, said, "[Geocaching Headquarters] wanted to give back to the places where we play the game. The game is often played in parks and other types of public lands, and those places often need help from the community to do clean ups and upkeep."
CITOs are a terrific way for cachers to celebrate Earth Day, while helping the environment. This year, Pam Copenhaver and Gene Warner are hosting a CITO in York, called YCGS First CITO of 2016, on April 23. "The CITO is usually done four times per season, April to October," Copenhaver said. "We do it because we both like getting together with other geocachers."