By CRYSTAL SCHELLE
5:11 PM EST, January 3, 2013
Geocaching enthusiasts liken the game to a massive outdoor treasure hunt.
And while the prize is usually small, the hunt is actually the big pay-off, say players.
As a way to encourage more people to get out and explore more of Maryland's municipalities, the Maryland Municipal League will open the Discovering Maryland MML Geotrail Saturday, Jan. 5, in Hancock Performing Arts Center at Town Hall. The kick-off will be from 10 a.m. to noon and will be held in conjunction with the opening of two other geotrails in Greenbelt, Md., and Perryville, Md.
There will be light refreshments, how-to demonstrations, kids' activities and door prizes.
According to www.geocaching.com, geocaching is when players, using a GPS device or a smartphone, try to locate hidden containers through the use of coordinates. After the prize or "cache" is located, players log online to share their experiences.
According to the site, there are more than 1 million active geocaches and more than 5 million geocachers worldwide. The site's recent activity lists more than 4 million new logs submitted from geocachers in the last 30 days.
Paula Chase-Hyman, manager of member relations for the MML, said Discovering Maryland is the second geotrail the organization has developed. The first trail was conceived when the City of Greenbelt had already launched its own geotrail and was having some success with it, she said.
Using Greenbelt's success as a launching pad, the MML started its first statewide trail in 2009, taking geocachers from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore.
"It was conceived as a way to not only bring awareness to what are municipalities and towns in the state but also to draw visitors there. It was a tourism/economic development initiative," she said.
That first trail was launched in February 2009 with 85 municipalities participating, Chase-Hyman said.
The MML just archived the caches in July 2012, which meant geocachers who logged onto the www.geocaching.com site can no longer see the caches, she explained.
"Between 2009 and 2012 we had about 30,000 hits, what we consider finds, when a cache was found throughout the state," Chase-Hyman said.
Dwight Wingert of Hagerstown started geocaching in 2003, and was involved in the first statewide trail.
"It takes you to places in your community, places just around the corner sometimes, and shows you things that you don't know are there," he said.
Geocaching is played 100 percent outdoors, forcing players to get out and walk around their communities. And though it's January, Wingert said cold weather won't keep geocachers at bay, noting that weather — unless it's deep snow or a blizzard — doesn't affect the avid geocachers' game.
Wingert said he geocaches "typically two times a week." And Wingert, who is a grandfather, said geocaching is a great game to do with the family.
To play, Wingert said people must first log onto the site. A novice can put in a zip code and it will give directions to caches specifically in the area. A GPS or smartphone will help geocachers follow the longitude and latitude directions. Wingert said that in the last few feet of finding the cache is when the real hunting begins — the cache can be in a hollow log or up in a tree, and the size can vary from "as small as your pinkie finger" to as large as a 3-quart container.
Inside, Wingert said, is what is called "swag," usually something small in cost. The rule is geocachers can swap out swag of equal or greater value. Then the person writes in the log book and returns the cache to its original spot. Once he or she gets home they log online and talk about their experience.
"It's a high-tech scavenger hunt," he said.
For this new geotrail, Chase-Hyman said 49 of the original 85 municipalities have again decided to participate. She calls them "the diehard geocache towns." She said they found that "some of the towns weren't really built for it." For instance, some towns were too small to meet the requirement that a cache has to be accessible 24 hours a day.
Chase-Hyman said geocachers already form a nationwide community and geocachers are already excited about new trails. But it's also a way to educate state residents about municipalities.
Merriam-Webster defines a municipality as "a primarily urban political unit having corporate status and usually powers of self-government."
"We want to make sure that municipalities are seen as viable, attractive places for (visitors) to visit," Chase-Hyman said. "Because there are plenty of people who don't necessarily understand the difference between municipalities and what is simply a population center like Towson or Columbia versus Hagerstown."
If you go ...
What: Discovering Maryland Maryland Municipal League Geotrail
When: 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 5
Where: Hancock Performing Arts Center at Town Hall, 126 W. High St., Hancock
More: Event attendees will be given an advance listing of all the new geocache coordinates as the official Trail Passport
Geocachers can access the coordinates any time after 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, by registering at www.geocaching.com. The basic registration is free. A trackable collectible coin will be awarded to the first 200 geocachers who locate at least two caches within each of the participating MML districts:
District 1: Lower Eastern Shore
District 2: Upper Eastern Shore
District 3: Baltimore (not ready for launch)
District 4: Southern Maryland
District 5: Montgomery Country
District 6: Frederick County
District 7: Allegany/Garrett Counties
District 8: Washington County
District 9: Prince George's County
District 10: Cecil/Harford Counties
District 11: Carroll County
To be eligible for commemorative coin, geocachers must record the location, date and code of their find at the Official MML Geocache Trail Passport and paste a picture at each cache. Completed passports must then be mailed to MML offices for coin redemption. To download the official passport go to www.mdmunicipal.org/geocache.
To find out the basics of geocaching, go to www.geocaching.com.
A quarter illustrates the sizes of some of the smallest geocaches hidden in area parks and historic sites. A statewide geotrail called Discovering Maryland will launch Saturday in Hancock.
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