My grandchildren and I went on a treasure hunt recently in First Landing State Park. All we needed to do was to follow the GPS coordinates and find the hidden treasures.
“Look Mattie, there it is,” said grandson Grady, 8, to his 10-year-old sister
“Wait Grady, let me help you open it,” she replied, gleeful that the first treasure had been so easy to locate.
Nestled next to a tall tree along a two-mile beachfront trail, a metal box contained our first discovery – little red bottles of bubbles. My grandchildren thought it was so cool to find the prize.
Further down the path, the second “cache” was a small but useful compass that the kids could use time and time again on camping trip with their parents.
Our first-ever geocaching adventure this spring was part of the USO’s second annual Experience Virginia Beach for military, residents, and visitors in the area. It’s inspired us to pursue geocaching more often this summer.
Geocaching uses a geocaching app or GPS device to find hidden containers called geocaches. The hobby originated in 2000 after GPS accuracy improved, according to the blog at Geocaching.com. The word combines the prefix geo, meaning earth, with cache, which means hiding place. Today, there are more than 3 million caches worldwide.
I spent a few days researching the topic online and talking to local geocaching gurus who post on the Facebook page Geocaching Hampton Roads. Local Girl Scouts are also very involved in the outdoor game. Let’s meet some enthusiastic players.
Quality Time with Your Family Outdoors
Look for Geocaches in Northwest River Park
Chesapeake residents Kristen Ducatte and son Braden, 8, enjoy geocaching because it’s something they can do together outdoors.
“We love finding new places and seeing new things,” Kristen said. “If you are new to caching, I would suggest Northwest River Park in Chesapeake at first. The Sasquatch cache is my son’s all-time favorite.”
Mother and son started geocaching when Braden was three years old. “It’s fun looking for hidden things,” Braden said. “I also find new parks and places to play.”
To get started, says Kristen, download a geocaching app like the one found at geocaching.com, and explore places near you. Then, begin gathering the tools of the trade. Kristen keeps a caching backpack in her vehicle, and it’s always stocked with tissues, wipes, extra socks and t-shirt, bug spray, sunscreen, flashlight, screwdriver, several ink pens, and “swag,” which are miniature treasures to leave behind after you remove one. She also has a retractable mirror and magnet on a pole to use when caches are too high for her to easily reach.
“Most importantly, follow the coordinates,” she said. “Once I narrow down a spot, I usually review the geocache to see what size and difficulty I am looking for. The description often has clues that allude to where or what the cache may be. There is also a hint option you can choose, and you can review the cache’s activity [online] that includes the logs of others who have or haven’t found it. Lots of times, those logs contain little hints, too.”
Geocachers have developed their own acronyms which you will see on the logs and geocaching social media sites, so it’s helpful to understand these. For example, DNF means Did Not Find, FTF is First to Find, TFTC is Thanks for the Cache, TOTT is Tools of the Trade, PNG is Park and Grab (it’s easy and quick to find), and LPC is Light/Lamp Pole/Post Cache.
It’s an ideal family activity, Kristen said. “It’s too much fun to not try it.”
Find a Mentor To Help You Learn the Ropes
Geocaching in Europe is Also Popular
For your first few times caching, Kurt Flechtner of Norfolk suggests asking experienced hunters if you can tag along. They can show you the ropes, give tips on the kinds of containers you will see along the way, and teach you cache etiquette.
“Finding caches is a skill that takes practice,” said Kurt. “If you go and don’t find anything, kids will be disappointed and you may miss out on a great hobby.”
Kirk Springer, also from Norfolk, says geocaching reminds him of childhood days hiding and finding Easter eggs over and over again.
“The fun was in the hunt and also finding a clever way to hide the eggs to stump one another,” Kirk said. “When we found our first geocache, lights and bells went off in my head, and an addiction was born. For five years, I planned every weekend around geocaching.”
Now that Kirk and his family are older, they geocache only on vacation. On a recent trip to Portugal, Kirk desperately wanted a “find.” A local resident came to his rescue.
“We were walking to a small store to get something to cook for dinner with an Italian woman,” he said. “Her English was spotty and my Italian was zero, but together we found the geocache. She was so excited. Every time we saw her for the next 10 days, she asked if there were more treasures to find.”
Try a Local Letterboxing Activity
Follow a Series of Clues at Girl Scouts’ Outback
Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast offer a Geocaching Badge, thanks to a donation from Dominion Energy for geocaching units to use in their outdoor programs. In addition, girls create award projects around this fun outdoor activity, according to spokesperson Marcy Germanotta.
Recently, Girl Scout Junior Troop 287 from Chesapeake created a letterboxing project as a way to earn their Bronze Award. Letterboxing is similar to geocaching and uses a series of clues and sometimes a compass to find weather-proof letterboxes with small rewards inside. Their letterboxing course with 10 locations is located in The Outback, a nine-acre nature area located behind A Place for Girls, the council’s program center and headquarters.
Visitors can schedule a time to explore the letterboxing project at the Outback by emailing email@example.com. The Letterboxing Clue sheet can be found in the special letterbox or mailbox entrance to The Outback, which includes a 400-foot boardwalk, fitness trail, picnic area, bird-watching tower, and creek for canoeing
Geocaching is an excellent, low-cost way to spend time with your children, says enthusiast Cheryl LaClair of Chesapeake. “You talk, explore, laugh and develop a personal, outdoor relationship that will last for years.”
“I’ve found some amazing places and met amazing people from across the United States and a few from other countries that I would never have met if not for geocaching,” she said.
For more information about geocaching, visit geocaching.com/play or discovertheforest.org/activities/geocaching.