Geocaching is a game in which participants search for a hidden item using given GPS coordinates. Players can use any number of different technologies (smartphones, GPS, Google maps) to assist them in navigating to the hidden cache. Then it is up to the player to search the area more closely. Items can be hidden under rocks, in trees, in bushes… anywhere the hider can reach. It’s a great game for those who enjoy exploring the outdoors as well as those who are more tech-minded. It’s these qualities of the game that made the SWCD think of geocaching as a great outreach opportunity for kids.
The program was started in the summer of 2013. The SWCD went to local elementary and middle schools to drop off game cards containing GPS locations of 12 items they had hidden; 6 in the north part of the county and 6 in the south. Items were placed on either public lands or private lands where the landowner had been contacted and agreed to be involved. To increase the educational value of the game, each of the cache items contained information about the natural setting in which it was located (i.e. riparian area, wetland). Traveling to these areas in search of geocaches meant that participants also learned about the existence of public parks, outdoor recreational opportunities, and natural resources in their communities.
Kids who participated filled out the game cards by putting a symbol of the item they found next to the corresponding GPS coordinates. If students found 6 or more of the geocaches before the end of the summer they could turn in their completed game cards for a chance to win a prize. All students who turned in their cards by the August 30 deadline received gift bags. Two second prize winners received kid binoculars and “Birds, Nests and Eggs,” a book that helps kids identify and learn about different birds. The grand prize winner was Aubrey Sorensen, a 4th grader at Hudson Park Elementary School in Rainier. She won an annual family pass to the Oregon Zoo, OMSI, and the World Forestry Center. Her mother says she took Aubrey, a friend, and her friend’s mother out geocaching together. Aubrey loved searching for the geocache items and spending time outdoors. Her mother says she was extremely excited when she found out she had won the grand prize and will definitely be participating again.
In the coming years the SWCD hopes to expand this program by designing more advanced searches for older students. They are in the process of seeking donations from companies like Trimble, Garmin, and REI for future year’s prizes. The SWCD encourages anyone who is interested to get involved in geocaching. There are thousands of geocaches stashed throughout our community, enough to keep an enthusiast busy for a long time.