Bridging the Tech/Natural World Divide with Geocaching

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by Jim Hanson, Manager, Digital Media & GIS

Technology is fixed in our daily lives. It makes our lives easier and connects us to places across the globe. But there is a downside, over the past few decades people are spending an enormous amount of time in the virtual world and less time out in nature.

Growing up, I spent hours in the woods behind my house damning streams and looking under rocks. If it was light out, I was playing outside. Things are very different these days. An article on CNN.com last November reported that “on any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment” (they defined media as “watching TV, videos and movies, playing video games, reading, listening to music and checking social media”). Nine hours! That is an alarming statistic.

So how do we get kids to spend more time outdoors? Make them stop using their phones and watching TV cold turkey? Good luck with that! One possible answer – Geocaching. It is the perfect outdoor activity for a young, techy generation. It combines technology with the thrill of an outdoor treasure hunt.

The treasure is a small container called a cache filled with tradeables (small trinkets that cachers trade when they find caches). The easier ones to find are simple Tupperware containers hidden under logs or rocks. The more difficult ones to find are shaped like natural items such as pinecones, rocks, and logs. The GPS coordinates for each cache is recorded when they are hidden, and then published on Geocaching.com. Once the coordinates are published, the treasure hunt is on!

The hunt involves using a GPS enabled device, such as a smart phone or GPS unit, to find a cache. There are several free geocaching apps for both IOS and Android devices, but if you want to go old school you can load the GPS coordinates into a handheld GPS unit and navigate to the caches that way. The latter method is more advanced and requires more prep work before heading off on the hunt. These apps allow cachers to search for nearby caches based on their current location. You would be amazed at how many caches are located around you at this very moment!

Kids are so used to fulfilling their sense of adventure with video games that they have forgotten how to do so in nature. There is something about the thrill of uncovering treasure while geocaching that brings out the adventurer in all of us. I led a few geocaching classes here at Duke Farms for teenagers and they loved it. Most of these kids wouldn’t think about turning over rocks or putting their hands inside a dark tree cavity, but when they were out geocaching they thought nothing of it. After the first few caches they were pros and started racing each other to find the next. So the next time you are trying to get your child off their devices and outside bring them to Duke Farms to hunt for some geocaches.

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