There is little that compares to a walk in the autumn woods, but add an element of mystery and a nod to technology, and you've got geocaching.
Geocaching is a scavenger hunt in which hikers use a smartphone or global positioning system, GPS, receiver to hide and seek small containers called caches. To play, cache-hunters log onto a website, such as www.geocaching.com, that shows the GPS coordinates for caches in the area. Plug the cache coordinates into a smartphone or GPS, and you're ready to go.
In the cache there is usually a logbook to record entries for those who have successfully found it.
There may also be some prizes such as coins, action figures, collecting cards or any small object that could be fun for trading. It is important to track your find and share your experience on the website.
Jim Zimmerman of Jeannette takes his geocaching seriously. As member of the Westmoreland Conservancy, he is an advocate of the outdoors and enjoys the chance to meet other geocachers face to face. "It's a challenge because the person who hides the cache is trying to hide something so cleverly, that even with its GPS coordinates, you can't find it," he said.
"Geocaching gives me a social connection as part of the outdoor experience. The best thing is swapping stories. You'll hear things you will not believe. People have found abandoned cars, marijuana patches and a friend of mine even found a body -- a murder scene."
As president of the Westmoreland Conservancy, Shelly Tichy is not as avid a geocache hunter as she is a formidable cache-hider. "I am rather devious in setting the 'hide,' " she said.
"Typically, a cache is [in] a plastic box that locks tight, but for our events I use objects that represent the nature around them," Ms. Tichy explained. "For example I have hollowed out a plastic bullfrog as the cache and placed it by the stream. Another time I hollowed out a cluster of artificial grapes and hid it in a grapevine."
The Westmoreland Conservancy is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving rural and rustic lands for the public good. The nonprofit acquires property through land gifts, private and state grants, and monetary donations. One way to further an appreciation of their work is by sponsoring geocaching and getting people out into the woods. The Conservancy's next geocaching event, called Cache with the Conservancy, will be held Oct. 19 at Sardis Park pavilion No. 1 in Murrysville. The hunt will begin in the parking lot of the park and the goal is to find eight caches. At each find, hunters will be given coordinates for the next. They also will get a key word that they can redeem for raffle tickets. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. The all-day hunt is followed by a picnic at 5:30 p.m.
Mrs. Tichy expects up to 150 people to take part.
In addition to the Westmoreland Conservancy Mr. Zimmerman identified several other local geocaching groups, including Pittsburgh Area Geocaching Association, PAGA; Caching Renegades of Westmoreland County, CROW; and Butler Area Cachers of Note, BACON.
All that is needed to start geocaching is a GPS-capable device. Handheld GPS units cost between $50 and $150. You can also get a free application for your smartphone called c:geo. There are an estimated 2,235,371 active geocaches and believed to be more than 6 million geocachers worldwide. To find caches in your area, go to www.geocaching.com.
For more information check the Conservancy website at www.westmorelandconservancy.org
Tim Means, freelance: email@example.com. First Published October 10, 2013 1:02 AM