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Geocaching a great find (10/01/2008)
By Cynthya Porter

There’s treasure hidden around Winona, lots of it actually, you just have to know where to look.

Far from pirate’s gold, this treasure is more likely in the form of Happy Meal toys, patches from around the world or just the simple satisfaction that you found something someone else hid.

Geocaching is a treasure hunting game that has exploded with global popularity, and Winonans will have a chance to try their hand at it Saturday during a free event scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Lake Winona Pavilion behind Community Memorial Hospital.

The event will include an overview of geocaching and demonstrations, as well as a potluck lunch for those who attend.

To hunt for geocaches, said hobbiest Brian Swartling, one needs only a hand-held GPS device and a trinket to replace the one they take should they find the bounty. But Saturday, said Swartling, people don’t even need their own GPS unit, as experienced geocachers will be on hand with GPS equipment to share.

Begun as a measure for testing emerging global positioning technology, geocaching evolved into a game after people realized hunting for an item based on coordinates was both challenging and fun.

Today game players use everything from cell phones to fishing devices with GPS capability to find some of the 662,000 geocaches hidden around the world.

Geocaching.com is the international repository for information on the whereabouts of those geocaches, with interactive logs that allow participants to report locations where geocaches are found, the item’s approximate size and the degree of difficulty treasure hunters may encounter to find it.

According to Swartling, geocaches can be anything from tiny “monocaches” a half-inch long by a half-inch wide to totes like those in the back of a pickup truck.

Every now and then, said Swartling, stories surface of valuable prizes hidden inside, such as a $100 bill or a gift card to Kwik Trip. But in general, he said, prizes are trinkets of little value except as a keepsake for the adventure. The monocaches are so tiny they only hold a slip of paper that finders log their initials and the date they found it on. Some of those monocaches are magnetic, making lamp posts, fences and locations even on busy streets a possible hiding spot for the item.

Many of the geocaches around town are the size of medium Tupperware or ammunition containers, Swartling said, with a variety of items inside. The rule of thumb for geocaching is take something and leave something of equal value, with players using the honor system to keep the game fun for everyone.

Through geocaching Websites, players can purchase special items like geocoins that travel around the world as players take them and leave them. Through a serial number on the coin one can trace its route on the geocaching.com Website. Swartling, who started geocaching with his children to encourage them off the couch, said they found one coin that had traveled 74,000 miles.

Even using a GPS device, geocaching can be difficult, as the technology is only accurate to about an 18’ radius, Swartling said. The rest of the search is real treasure hunting depending on how well the item is hidden.

Swartling said there are about 50 geocaches hidden in the vicinity of Winona and Goodview, and he and his kids know where they all are. In fact, Swartling placed a number of them himself to keep the game alive. Aside from his family, Swartling knows of about a dozen other active geocachers in town, and once in a while they all get together for some coffee and chatter.

Because of the high number of geocaches in the area, Swartling said Winona receives many visitors from the Twin Cities who are out on geocaching excursions. Those geocachers log their adventures on geocaching.com too, including what was inside and whether items are missing from the posted location.

Like visitors from the Twin Cities, Swartling and his family use geocaching.com to do a little treasure hunting nearly everywhere they go by looking up geocaches along the route.

It’s a fun game, he said, full of fresh air and excitement good even for his three-year-old.

Swartling said the game comes with only one warning: It can be addicting. “I started it to get my kids out of the house,” he said. “Now they get mad if they find out I went and found a geocache without them.”



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