Finding hidden treasures

Usually, electronic devices and the Internet are not things that most people associate with getting outside and into the great outdoors.

For the hobby of geocaching, they are not only needed, but the hobby would not exist without the modern digital technology that lets owners of global positioning system devices know where they anywhere in the world within a few yards. GPS devices are basically radios that are constantly reading satellite signals and performing calculations.

Karen Hansen, Webster County Conservation naturalist, offered a basic primer on the hobby. Two things are needed to start.

“You need to have access to a computer to get the geocache coordinates and you need a GPS to find them,” Hansen said.

So what is it that one finds at the site of geocache?

“A geocache can be a container full of exchangable items,” she said.

The kind of container is left up to the imagination of the person who placed it. Resealable plastic food containers, jars and even surplus ammunition containers can be used.

Inside are the exchangable items and a log-in sheet on which those who find the cache can record their names, the date and contact information.

The items in the container, the prize, if you will, can be anything; however, it’s good geocaching manners to not just take.

“If you want an item in the container,” Hansen said, “you have to leave an item of equal or greater value.”

Another measure of good etiquette: “Put the cache back where you found it.”

Once a hunter gets close to the site, how hard are the caches to find?

That, Hansen said, is up to the skills of the person who placed it there and the sharpness of the vision of the person seeking it.

There is one rule.

“They can’t be buried.”

Hansen enjoys the hobby herself.

“It’s so amazing to see all the clever geocaches people have placed,” she said. “They’ve really tried to make it exciting for other people.”

Geocaching can also be combined with a spirit of volunteerism. Webster County Conservation hosts an annual Cache In Trash Out event each April for Earth Day.

Hunters don’t have to go far from home, either.

“There are lots of them in Webster County,” Hansen said. “It’s neat to pull up the map and see.”

It lets people experience something new.

“It gets them to places they’ve never been to before, places they never knew were there,” she said.

Placing a cache and then posting the coordinates does require an additional step beyond figuring out where to hide it – permission.

A permit is necessary.

“State, county and city parks have a simple permit to fill out,” Hansen said. “We do, as well, for Webster County Conservation areas.”

Private property, she said, is considered off-limits.

For equipment, a basic $100 unit should get the hunter more than close enough.

“You can have a lot of success with one of the least expensive units,” Hansen said.

For those who want to give the hobby a trial run, Webster County Conservation has a GPS unit available for checking out. Those with an interest should contact Hansen or Erin Ford at 576-4258 for more information.

GPS coordinates for geocaches in the area can be found at www.geocaching.com.