With the use of high-tech global positioning system (GPS) gadgets, an adventurous outdoor treasure hunt game called geocaching has grown tremendously in popularity since it first started in the early 2000s.
According to Geocaching.com, there currently are close to 2 million hidden items, or “geocaches,” placed all around the world and more than 5 million registered participants, better known as “geocachers” or “cachers.”
As a way to promote the activity and encourage more people to explore Maryland’s towns and landscapes, the Maryland Municipal League organized three events around the state Saturday to usher in its Discovering Maryland MML Geotrail.
More than 85 people from all around the Tri-State area and beyond attended one of the kickoff events at the Hancock Performing Arts Center at Town Hall, said Dwight Wingert, a board member of the Maryland Geocaching Society.
The other two Maryland geotrail events were held in Greenbelt and Perryville.
“It gets the family off the couch and outside,” said Wingert, a cacher using the online handle “Snurt” since 2003. “It’s taken me places all over the state, all over the country — places around the corner that I never knew were there.”
Wingert said there are more than 1,000 geocaches hidden all around Washington County.
“It doesn’t matter where you live in Washington County, there’s one down the street or around the corner,” he said.
For Tim Eggleston of Martinsburg, W.Va., a cacher known online as “WVTim” since 2009, geocaching is “whatever people want to make it.”
“If you like hiking, you can hike to get a cache,” he said. “... I just kind of like the interesting hides, and that’s what I do. I’m a hider. I only have like 1,600 finds, but I have almost 200 hides. I have them all over Martinsburg, the Hedgesville area.”
Eggleston, who’s geocached all across Europe as well as the United States, said he most enjoys making what he calls “gadget caches.” Many built from birdhouses, his caches often challenge people to figure out how to open them once they are located, he said.
“Sometimes, you can find the cache and you know that’s it, but now how do I get in it?” Eggleston said. “I’m kind of a crazy guy. I make really weird caches.”
Attendees at the Hancock event took time talking about their experiences on the geotrail — some said they’ve been caching for a decade or more and have found thousands of items across the globe — while others simply came to learn more about it.
Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy has never gone geocaching, but he said it’s “truly fascinating” to hear some of the participants’ stories.
“Today, we learned so much about some of the kind of novelty treasures,” he said. “Some of them are just simple little (tupperware containers) ... but some of these things are incredible, mind-bending puzzles that once you locate the thing, you have to figure out how to open it to get to the treasure.”
With several caches located throughout the town, Hancock got involved several years ago when the MML ramped up efforts to promote the state geotrail, Murphy said, adding that many people do it for a family activity, to get some exercise or check out some local historical places.
“We put out one of the caches, or the treasures, that these people search for with their GPS’s,” he said. “We embraced the idea right away, thought it would be good to bring people into our community.”
How to geocache
Geocaching is done by using a smartphone or small global positioning system (GPS) hand-held device to locate specific hidden treasures by way of GPS coordinates.
Participants then may sign up for a free account online at geocaching.com to select items, or caches, in their area to seek out.
“The website will show you what you need to do. It’s very user-friendly,” said Dwight Wingert, a board member of the Maryland Geocaching Society. “You can one-click download a single cache to your smartphone or you can download 500 of them in your area.”
Once a cache is selected, the user’s phone or GPS device will lead them almost right to it, he said.
“When you find it, there’s a log sheet inside that says you’ve been there,” Wingert said. “Bigger geocaches have trade items in them. We call it ‘swag.’ ... The children love to trade things out.”