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Geocaching gaining interest in the islands

By Staff | Mar 4, 2015

Treasure hunting with a modern twist is grabbing hold in the islands.

Geocaching is a outdoor activity with enthusiasts using global positioning devices/cell phones to seek hidden treasures, mostly watertight containers of trinkets and keepsakes left by previous visitors. The caches are stuffed in tree crevices, hung from branches, even buried, for instance. Serious followers secret keyring sized containers with a scrolled log, which allows visitors to leave dates and messages, almost always signed with a code name. There are some 100 geocache sites in Sanibel and Captiva.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg. There are some 6 million geocache hobbyists, another 2.5 million hidden sites, or “hides,” throughout the world. It’s estimated 10,000 new hides are planted each week. The first official placement was in Oregon in May 2000. The term geocaching has evolved from the original word stashing.

Geocaching is gaining traction in the islands. A busload of schoolkids played a version of the game Feb. 25 at the “Ding” Darling Refuge. Science students from Littleton Elementary in Fort Myers used global positioning devices and a school tablet to answer questions in the Refuge that ultimately solved a puzzle. But the game mirrored the basics of geocaching; hiding anything on federal land is prohibited. Any form of electronic treasure hunting is a new tool educators use that helps in studying wildlife, ecology and working in teams, said Susie Hassett, the school’s instructor at the Ding with her science class.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Hassett said.

The architects of geocaching at the Ding are Ken and Ginny Kopperl, seasonal volunteers and serious hobbyists who have placed three “earthcache” hides at the Refuge, and another 42 standard hides in the islands. The Ding caches are more riddle/puzzle solving because of the prohibition in secreting containers on federal land, Ken Kopperl said. But it has the same excitement and learning tools, he said.

Geocaching, he said, “is like a secret little society. It’s absolutely fun,” adding that he and his wife have some 3,500 geocache finds in the last couple of years. A friend has more than 23,000, he said.

Geocaching is surprisingly simple: Users download an app to their smartphones. There’s a one-time $10 fee for serious followers, trial apps for the curious. Users are shown a screen of hides, touching the screen to seek one of the spots. A compass and a distance calculator pop up, allowing seekers to track the hide, literally within inches. Kopperl recently sampled one of the hides on Periwinkle, tracking the watertight container to a tree crevice. Inside were keepsakes, a log of those discovering the hide. Tracking and discovery have the sensation only a treasure hunt offers, he said.

“Ginny and I love it,” he said.

Details on geocaching and phone apps are at geocaching.com.