High-tech treasure hunt
“It’s less than 300 feet, on the left,” says a 4-H’er, as we drive by Academy Springs Park.
An hour earlier, the group stared at the Global Positioning System units and seemed most interested in stopping for ice cream later.
At this moment, though, I know they’re hooked— straining to unlatch their seat belts and be the first to the treasure.
No, we are not looking for pirates’ buried treasure. Instead, we’re on the hunt for a geocache.
Geocaching is a high tech treasure hunt, with prizes hidden worldwide by people of all ages.
Instead of a map marked with an “x,” geocachers find latitude and longitude coordinates on geocaching. com, then plug them in a handheld GPS unit. The unit reads signals from satellites orbiting earth to determine our location. Because there is no single starting point for this activity, a regular compass won’t work.
TheWeb site shows 36 caches within just 10 miles of the Covington Square.
Besides learning to use this technology, there are other lessons learned while geocaching: first, if you’re not accurate with the coordinates, you’ll be like the 4-H’er who told me the next cache was 700 miles to the left.
The GPS unit tells you which direction to head. Wear good walking shoes and bring water, because some caches are quite a hike beyond the parking lot.
In fact, seeing parks, historical markers and other points of interest are another benefit.
On this day, we quickly narrow the search within Academy Springs and split up to hunt.
The treasure will not be buried, but it can be nearly anywhere: inside a dead stump, behind a loose brick, or stuck by Velcro under a bench.
The “treasure chest” can come in many forms as well, ranging from a tiny film canister to a large tackle box.
One 4-H’er strikes pay dirt when he locates the pill bottle cache. As this cache is small, there are no prizes inside. We sign the logbook and tuck 4-H stickers inside for the next treasure hunter.
A larger cache often holds small treasures such as party favors, fast food prizes or other knickknacks. To take an item, you must leave an item. Finding pieces of gold is possible, as well.
Geocoins are about the size of a half dollar, and travel bugs look like dog tags. Each item is imprinted with a unique code to enter online for tracking its journey.
I recently found a geobug attached to an owl finger puppet and two geocoins in caches near the Jekyll Island 4-H Center. I logged my finds online, took photos of them in Covington and then placed them in a cache here.
The owners of the geocoins and geobug can watch the progress of each item as it travels the world.
The prizes themselves usually aren’t valuable, but the true prizes for the 4-H’ers are not the toys.
Vocabulary studied in a textbook, such as latitude and longitude, become real life.
Geocachers learn to be observant of small details.
The hunt uses technology to get people outside the house and away from the computer.
And perhaps, 4H’ers begin to see some of the adventures around the world and right here in our community which are just awaiting a treasure hunter. I hope, too, that this will only be a starting point. Glynn County 4-H’ers used geospatial technology to investigate the source of harmful bacteria which caused beach closures on St. Simons Island. They tested water, used oranges to track the flow of water from marsh tidal creeks, and marked the location of pet feces and the oranges with GPS.
Their findings not only convinced local officials to put up more trash cans and advisories for pet owners, but they are making a significant environmental impact in their community.
In Newton County, one ninth grader spent part of his summer learning how geospatial technology is used to create smart maps and helping to map water in our county.
On Oct. 3, he will teach fifth and sixth graders to geocache, and maybe one day they too will use this technology to make an impact on Newton County. Registration is still open for this full day event.