“We call geocaching the largest hobby in the world that no one’s heard of,” said Sandy Barker said from GPS geocaching technology developer Groundspeak.
With six million players across the world and 1,700 in Wichita and surrounding cities, geocaching prides itself on its grass roots growth of passionate modern day treasurer hunters.
Geocaching involves someone hiding a cache, or toy, in a small waterproof container that has been carefully arranged to blend into nature. The coordinates are then entered into a website, like geocaching.com, that records the location of the items.
A geocacher, or person searching for the prize, then logs onto the website to go on a scavenger hunt for the cache and uses a GPS device or smart phone with GPS capabilities to locate the hidden item.
Bryan Ellis, from the Wichita Geocaching Society, says he has seen items hidden in things like bird houses, hollowed out logs, fence posts, fake pine cones, fake rocks and small match box containers.
The caches all contain a log book to keep track of the people who have discovered the item and the small toy or trinket. The finder can then swap out the toy with something of equal or greater value for the next person who discovers the cache.
Ellis says geocaching is about more than just finding the toy.
“The fun part to me is just the thrill of trying to find the cache,” says Ellis. “It can be a matter of walking off, turning around, walking back and it's right in front of you.”
Geocaching is considered a family friendly activity that can be part of an outdoor walk or hike. Ellis says his daughter is a fan and he considers her a valuable part of the search.
“Sometimes kids will have a totally different viewpoint than adults,” says Ellis. “There will be times that I can be looking for 10 minutes and she’ll come up and ask ‘is this what you’re looking for dad?’”
Geocaching started nearly 12 years ago. According to Barker, someone placed a large ammunition can in the Oregon woods, posted the coordinates online and people went out to find it.
Exploration Place is opening a new geocaching exhibit this Saturday to take people on an adventure around the world and learn about GPS technology.
“It’s a real combination of outdoor adventure, GPS usage and also the game of geocaching in the exhibit,” says Barker.
Christina Bluml, from Exploration Place, says the GPS geocaching exhibit fits together with their mission of informal learning focused on science, math, technology and engineering.
“We are all about hands on, interactive learning at Exploration Place,” says Bluml. “GPS adventures fits right in with that. Getting you out and about, using your critical thinking skills, and memory retention to find those hidden caches.”
If you have never tried the GPS scavenger hunt, Exploration Place and the Wichita Geocaching Society will offer a free geocaching 101 class on Saturday, February 4th at 11 a.m.
The exhibit opens to the public tomorrow where they can go through the GPS maze and try to find a few hidden caches of their own.
Barker offers a tip for first time geocachers. “When you’re looking for a cache, look for something that might be a little out of place.”