A high-tech treasure hunt caused another bomb scare last Friday, July 1, in the small town of Wetherby in Northern England. When café dwellers saw a man place a suspicious-looking box under a flower pot and walk away, the local authorities and eventually the army and bomb squad were called in.
Three hours and one bomb-disposal robot later, the mystery box was blown up by police. Witnesses later learned it wasn't a bomb at all, but an innocent object known as a geocache -- part of an Internet-based global scavenger hunt.
Geocaching, a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game, has been around for over a decade and has millions of followers across the globe. Players hide an object somewhere around the globe then post the coordinates on the geocaching Web site. Seekers can then input the numbers on a GPS to start their hunt, resulting in tens of thousands of gamers searching for these hidden trinkets on every continent.
Police say the game is innocent enough, but encourage the treasure-seekers to use a little common sense when hiding and finding the boxes. They have even advised that boxes not be hid in urban spaces or high-traffic areas. Many players agree and have been trying to better communicate with local authorities, letting them know in advance when geocaches are in the area or giving a contact number or photo of the object. There is no regulation size or type of container, and some argue that this could be especially helpful -- and may soon become common practice or even mandatory -- as the game increases in popularity.
This is not the first time these innocuous little containers have resulted in police action. Almost as long as the sport has been around, people have been confusing them for bombs all over the world. Since its creation in May of 2000, over 80 caches have been mistaken as threats to security; they have been defused, shot at, x-rayed, blown up and have been responsible for numerous lock downs across the US, Europe and Asia. In farm towns and huge city hubs, these little containers routinely strike fear into the hearts of whoever stumbles across them.
Some geocachers follow the philosophy that hiding a cache isn't a problem until someone (i.e. those of us blowing them up) makes it one, but most participants argue that this attitude casts geocachers and their activities in a bad light. Some containers are stamped with 'official geocache' stickers to ward off unwanted interference and unnecessary fear- but not all.
The National Park Service of the United States doesn't allow geocaching on any of the lands it administers to preserve fragile environments. Parks Canada has a similar position, though, as of now, there are no official rules in place. But not to worry, many state parks will allow geocaching with some limitations.
Park policies can vary widely between locations, so if you are planning to hide a cache, contact the park directly. Some parks may only require that you register the cache with them so they know where it is, while others have specific rules dictating where you can and can't put a cache.
If you want to 'cache in' on this project, you can sign up on their website; a basic membership is free but a premium membership is $30USD (20.90 EUR) per year or $10USD (7.00 EUR) for 3 months, and provides access to additional website features. Members can hide and record their own caches on the site, as well as discover hiding places around them.
There are also a number of independent Geocaching Organizations and Associations that serve as geocaching ambassadors in their local communities and organize many Event Caches and geocaching outings. Visitors can research and join a local group on the website as well.
A few tips for beginners:
-The container you use should be waterproof and weather resistant as caches are almost always exposed to the elements.
-Anything you put inside the cache should be in a zip-top bag. Paper logbooks may need to be double bagged to protect them.
-Remember to take and leave a prize if the cache has some in it- nobody wants to find an empty box.
-Cachers can fill their boxes with trinkets, socks, matches, playing cards, foreign money, childhood toys, funny rewards- it really doesn't matter, the fun is not what's inside the box, but rather locating it in the first place.
-After you find the cache, record your findings on the Web site.
-Get your family involved. It's a great hobby and an excellent way to teach your kids about navigation. Also, it's an excuse to get outside for a bit- just try no to look too suspicious.
-Do not move the boxes- it's just mean.
If you want to learn more about this fun, harmless activity that seems to be scaring people and aggravating the police around the world, visit: