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Local residents get caught up in geocaching craze

July 23, 2011

Chuck States of Punxsutawney calculates the location of a hidden treasure in Punxsutawney with a geocache GPS program on his smart phone. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you think a global positioning system’s (GPS) only purpose is to point a motorist to an intended destination, you’d be surprised to learn that many people use the device for a high-tech scavenger hunt called geocaching.

Francis and Jeanne Burkett of Punxsutawney presented a program on geocaching at the Lattimer House for the public and members of the Punxsutawney Historical & Genealogical Society Tuesday.

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure-hunting game using GPS-enabled devices.

Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
Jeanne Burkett, who has traveled around the world with her husband, Francis, participating in the electronic scavenger hunt, said geocaches have become extremely popular over the last few years.

As of the beginning of the week, there were 1,454,423 active geocaches and more than five million geocachers worldwide.

Burkett said to get started, geocachers need a handheld GPS unit or smart phone, Internet access, a geocaching name for yourself, your family or your group, and a Geocaching.com membership.

GPS — maintained by the U.S. government and freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver — is a space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on or near Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.

You can search for geocaches by location or by GC Code (a unique code associated with each cache listing) from the homepage, the hide and seek page or the advanced search page on the geocaching Web site.

Burkett said In the field, one might see everything from large, clear plastic containers and film canisters to fake rocks with secret compartments. Geocache containers must have a log book or slip of paper for cachers to sign.

If the cache is large enough, it could contain trade items such as trinkets, rain ponchos, key chains, pencils, pens, balls or toys, she said. A cache may never contain food, candles, scented items that would attract animals.

“Cachers are welcome to trade, but should leave something in return,” Burkett said, adding that in addition to trade items, there are trackable items, such as game pieces that contain a trackable number and a goal.

Burkett said a traditional cache is a container from at least large enough to hold a log book to large enough to hold trade items.

Hints are given to get you to the next stage, and the next until you get to the final container, Burkett said.

The first step in locating a cache is to get a general idea of the cache’s size, which is shown on each cache page, she said.
Chuck States of Punxsutawney said his family became interested in geocaching when his son, Jake, attended Boy Scout camp at Camp Mountain Run near Penfield with Troop 250 of Big Run. States said in fact, for the first time this year, scouts could earn a geocaching merit badge.

States said the Boy Scout merit badge taught his son how to be prepared for any type of situation while hiking in the woods searching for a particular cache.

Many people who jump into this electronic scavenger hunt use GPS technology on their smart phones to locate caches.

In order to obtain the Geocache.com official GPS tracking software, cachers should go to Marketplace on their phones to receive the specialized software, he said.

States, Troop 250’s scoutmaster, was recently granted permission by Punxsutawney Borough Council to place his own caches at various locations throughout the borough.

“I haven’t decided what or where I’m going to place them at this time,” he said.

There are caches that are hidden throughout the Punxsutawney area, including one that he located right in the center of downtown along the Mahoning Creek.

“Not only did my son Jake enjoy geocaching, so did the rest of our family,” States said. The only problem is getting the time to locate the hidden treasures.

Burkett said Cache In Trash Out (CITO) is where cachers are encouraged to pick up litter and dispose of it properly while out caching.

There are geocaches all over the world on every continent, from Antartica to North America, Burkett said.

Using the Punxsutawney zip code of 15767 for a 20-mile radius there are 345 caches listed with 29 caches on the Mahoning Shadow Trail alone — seven placed by the Burketts.

Some caches are designated as only “daytime caches,” and there are some “night caches” that use reflective tacks that only show up at night.

For more information, go to www.geocaching.com.

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