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Geocaching provides challenge and fun for families

By Staff | Dec 30, 2015

David White successfully found a geocache on the Sanibel shared-use path heading down Tarpon Bay Road Dec. 23. BRIAN WIERIMA

Imagine combining several top activities to do on Sanibel into one and finding out what you would have?

That answer is geocaching, an outdoor activity which challenges both the body and mind, while providing top-notch fun for the family.

Geocaching combines the wonders of Sanibel’s outdoors, biking and the shared-user paths, the opportunity to experience all of what the island has to offer up close and personal, while seeing some areas not typically seen by the regular tourist.

The ultimate scavenger hunt on steroids has picked up steam in the world over the course of the last decade and its definitely a popular activity on Sanibel, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

“We have placed about 45 caches around the island and have hundreds of people finding them from all over the world,” said Sanibel resident Ken Kopperl. “There are about another 40 to 50 other caches on the island, so there are plenty to find.”

The Tulanko/White family from Cincinnati, Ohio, went on a scavenger hunt on steroids (otherwise known as geo-caching) Wednesday morning, while on vacation on Sanibel. The activity of geocaching was introduced to them by islanders Ken and Ginny Kopperl, who have been seeking geocaches since 2008. The group took a break on one of the Sanibel biking trails, they include (L to R) Kara Tulanko, Timothy White, Ginny Kopperl, David White and Ken Kopperl. BRIAN WIERIMA

Geocaching was basically invented in the early 2000’s. It’s a real-time, outdoor treasure hunting game, which uses technology in hand-held GPS devices. Geocachers obtain real GPS coordinates of where the cache is and attempt to find them.

The challenge is the caches are cleverly hidden, with several degrees of difficulty the placer of the cache decides to go with.

“There are 6.5 million cachers in the world and 2.5 million hides,” said Kopperl, who along with his wife, Ginny, are serious geocachers. “You can find one at just about every rest stop, Walmart parking lot and just about everywhere.”

The reason geocaching has been picked up by so many people is it’s not only fun and challenging, it’s almost free.

Participants just have to register at www.geocaching.com for a free basic membership. There is an app also available for phones for a one-time charge of $10, as well.

Once registered using a creative nickname, the game starts.

For the Kopperls, Ken is “Magicman” and Ginny is “Sewjourner”.

“I do magic and Ginny sews,” Ken laughed.

The website supplies registered caches in one’s area and the coordinates to find it. Caches have names, as well, such as “Sand Between My Toes” and “Cache Cow” (two on Sanibel), along with hints on how to find them.

Another entertaining aspect of geocaching is getting others involved and that’s exactly what the Kopperls did when they introduced the activity to the White/Tulanko family from Cincinnati, Ohio, who vacationed to Sanibel last week.

“I asked Ken about some things to do on Sanibel, and he suggested to me to look at the geocaching website and see if we’d be interested,” said Kara Tulanko. “The kids got interested so when we got here, we gave it a try.”

The three tagged along with the Kopperl duo last Tuesday, Dec. 22, and they were hooked. They found seven caches out of seven tries.

“That’s a rarity to be perfect like that on your first time,” Ken Kopperl added.

Timothy and David White, Tulanko’s sons, had a blast using the shared use paths with their skateboard and bike. They were instantly involved and tried their luck again the next day.

“It’s like a real-live treasure hunt, some are difficult, but it’s still fun no matter,” Timothy White said.

The visiting trio dubbed their nicknames as “CincyT”, “CincyD” and “CincyK”.

The Kopperls were introduced to geocaching in 2008 by accident. During a trip to Key Biscayne, Ginny was walking down to the beach when she saw a gentleman looking for something in the grass.

“I asked him if he lost something and he said, ‘No, I am geocaching,'” Ginny said. “Ever since, we’ve been asked hundreds of times what we are doing when we are geocaching.”

There are guidelines and rules when placing a geocache. The first, is one can’t be placed within 528 feet of another. If placing a cache, permission needs to be granted if it’s on private property and they cannot be placed by such public areas as schools and airports because of security reasons.

“We always make sure its accessible and not in a dangerous area, and one where vegetation can’t be damaged,” Ken said. “Ideally, it should bring people to exciting areas.”

The Kopperls have a couple inside the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, since they are volunteers and know the area well.

Containers which caches are used, include everything from micro-containers (harder to find, five on difficulty degree scale) to bigger reciprocals such as coffee cans. But all of the containers must be waterproof and include a log in for the finder to sign and date.

The larger caches can contain items inside for the finders to trade items with, while the smaller ones just have logs in them.

With Sanibel having high traffic by people traveling from all over the world, the Kopperls’ caches on the island have been signed by geocachers ranging from Minnesota to Poland.

“Every time a cache is found and someone logs it into the website, we get an email,” Ken said. “We get about 50-60 emails a week sometimes.”

Travel bugs are also found inside caches and geocachers will trade something for them and log where they go.

“We have one travel bug which has over 43,000 miles on it and is in Europe,” Ginny added. “It’s fun, because sometimes people leave notes of where the Travel Bug has been.”

Geocaches on Sanibel can be found from tip to tip, including the Bailey’s Tract, Causeway and all the way down. The level of difficulties include one through five, with one being easiest. The terrain where they can be found also has level of difficulties, as well.

The Kopperls’ only five difficulty geocache is located under the Causeway and people will need a certain tool to get it.

Tools which every geocacher will need is either a smartphone with the geocaching app or a handheld GPS unit, which is more accurate.

When a cache is found, the user logs it into the website, and a smiley face appears on the map where each cache is marked. Another detail is when geocachers are looking for a cache and non-geocachers come upon them, they are called “Muggles” and stealth is required so the lot isn’t disturbed or stolen.

“When Ken first told me of Muggles, I was wondering why he was talking about ‘Harry Potter’,” Tulanko laughed. “And we also got our smiley faces on our map!”

With biking being the best way to each cache, the opportunity to experience the outdoors of Sanibel increases, and of course the exercise which goes with it.

“It’s a good chance for people to use technology and get outside at the same time,” Ken added.

Although there are plenty of activities to keep one busy on Sanibel, there are not many which combines several them into one – geocaching does just that.