High-tech trea­sure hunt

The Covington News - - Local news - Terri Kim­ble Guest Colum­nist

“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.

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