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rottnpagan in geocache_canada

Florida article, but still good.

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Geocaching adds to area's tourism
Treasure-filled hunts use GPS devices


By Laura Ruane
Originally posted on November 13, 2006



A kind of global treasure hunt is adding a new dimension to Southwest Florida tourism — and another use for Global Positioning System technology.

Geocaching — pronounced geo-cash-ing — began just more than six years ago. Players get coordinates from a Web site or other means, and use Global Positioning System, or GPS, devices to lead them to caches.

GPS-based geocaching has grown into a worldwide sport with more than 320,000 hidden caches, according to geocaching.com, a site considered authoritative by many engaged in the high-tech scavenger hunt.

Lee County alone probably has just more than 200 caches, said Dr. Dean Traiger. He's a Cape Coral-based family physician with about 1,200 cache finds to his credit.

Caches are waterproof containers with a logbook and some sort of small toy or memento inside. Once people get hooked on geocaching, they usually create and hide caches as well as seek out others.

The Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Electronics Association predicts that more than a million GPS units will be sold this year, a 300 percent increase from 2002.

Some of these gadgets are getting a workout locally in a geocaching challenge launched this summer by the Charlotte County Visitor's Bureau.

"It's a good fit for our nature-based activities," said Liane Crawford, bureau communications director.

Unlike Gulf beaches and related watersports, geocaching alone probably won't lure first-time visitors to the area. However, it could keep them around for an extra day or two, Crawford said.

James and Pam Morse of Fort Myers enjoyed geocaching while vacationing recently in Utah and Colorado. Before they go on most trips, they log on to geocaching.com, and use ZIP codes to to search for cache coordinates at their destination. The commercial Web site offers a basic membership for free; a premium membership with more cache locations is $30 a year.

"It's a family sport. It doesn't endanger a player or the environment as long as everybody plays by the rules," said James Morse, a military retiree who works part time at Gavin's Ace Hardware in south of Fort Myers.

Individuals maintain about 30 caches in Lee County-owned parks, said Elizabeth Wilder, park ranger for Lee and an avid geocacher. The park system has a permit and ground rules for placing caches. Overall, the game is seen as a different yet positive way to enjoy a natural resource.

"There are people who are more inclined to visit a park because of a geocache," Wilder said.

The same could be said for area waterways. The Great Calusa Blueway is a 100-mile marked paddling trail along Lee County's coast that meanders through pristine seagrass beds, mangrove tunnels and bird-watching spots such as rookeries.

That's why geocachers who paddle are encouraged to "leave only paddle swirls," meaning they should do virtual caches so as not to disturb the environment, said Betsy Clayton, waterways coordinator for Lee County Parks and Recreation.


Dean Traiger watches as News-Press reporter Laura Ruane discovers the hidden treasure with the use of a hand held GPS at Jaycee Park in Cape Coral on Sunday, September 29, 2006. Geocaching is a hunt for hidden treasures by using a GPS to find the location of the treasure. The person seeking the treasure is given clues to the location of the treasure much like a scavenger hunt.
A virtual cache exists in the form of a location only. Depending on the cache "hider," a virtual cache could be the answer to a question about a location or just an interesting spot. The reward? The location itself and sharing information about your visit.

Charlotte County's tourism bureau has hidden 25 caches along county parks and blueway paddling trails. Visitors who stay overnight at participating lodgings are offered a list of coordinates enabling those with GPS devices to engage in the hunt.

Caches include gift certificates donated by area businesses; a select few have limited-edition geo-coins that can open the door to other prizes.

"I've talked to several customers who are excited about it. One guy actually ran out to buy a GPS (device) while he was here," said Tracy Lehn, director of sales for the Days Inn, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Charlotte County.

Tourism's interest in GPS is hardly confined to geocaching. More than a year ago, Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts began loaning GPS devices to guests at some of its properties, to help them find their way from the hotel to a business meeting or luncheon, and maybe some afternoon shopping.

Hertz has installed GPS navigation systems in thousands of its rental vehicles, as have other companies. It's an option that adds about $10 a day to the rental bill.

Evergreen Lodge near Yosemite National Park rents portable GPS units to hikers for $20 a day.

GPS technology as a tourist magnet likely never entered the minds of its inventors. The U.S. Department of Defense drove development of the technology, beginning in the 1970s. GPS signals emitted by satellites were deliberately scrambled to keep civilians from getting too close to military secrets.

By order from President Bill Clinton, the high level of scrambling ended May 1, 2000. Overnight, that brought the accuracy of civilian GPS down from about a 328-foot radius to 30 feet, or less.

The very next day, a computer engineer toasted the milestone by hiding a bucket of trinkets in the woods outside Portland, Ore., and announcing its location in an Internet discussion forum on GPS navigation.

Within a day, the original cache had been found. Days later, other people had hidden more. Within a month, a cache had been hidden as far away as Australia.

Since then, the design and manufacture of consumer GPS devices for a variety of purposes have flourished.

Electronic GPS devices can determine one's location within about a 6- to 20-foot radius, according to geocaching.com. Coordinates typically are expressed in numerical degrees of latitude and longitude.

GPS devices can be used to direct a boat or a vehicle or a hiker from one location to another. Many units have their own maps, built-in electronic compasses, voice navigation and other extras.

Reporter goes on prowl with a cache-finding king

Reading about geocaching isn't nearly as fun as doing it.

I discovered this while on my first cache hunt with a local, hardcore cacher.
Dr. Dean Traiger — aka Doc-Dean — has found about 1,200 caches, including one in Antarctica.

He's also hidden about 80 caches since taking up the sport in 2001. "I like the adventure of going on the hunt, seeing places I otherwise wouldn't know about."

Traiger is a busy man. He's a family doctor at Physicians Primary Care in Cape Coral and the father of a 3-year-old girl who loves to go on treasure hunts.

That's why he suggested we go for a nearby cache he'd hidden at riverfront Jaycee Park. Coordinates and other hints for the "Jaycee Park Stash" can be found at geocaching.com.

This was a multi-cache, which meant it required finding two or more locations, the final spot having the cache.

Traiger punched in the latitude and longitude numbers on his Magellan GPS unit, then handed it to me. As long as the red arrow in the display window was pointing in the 12 o'clock position, I was headed in the right direction.

I paced forward confidently until the red arrow spun around to 6 o'clock.

"You overshot your target," Traiger said. Oh well, I wasn't totally clueless. I was at the first location in a jiff.

To get coordinates for the Part II of the hunt, I had to do some simple multiplication and addition, using numbers at the park.

What numbers? Go to the Web site before going to the park with your GPS device. I don't want to spoil the game.

I narrowly avoided lurching into an Australian pine while staring at the red arrow.
And as people walked by with big, slobbering dogs on leash or hand-in-hand with toddlers, I started to feel self-conscious.

I'd heard that geocachers try to look inconspicuous so that strangers — they call them muggles — don't intrude on the hunt or spoil the cache.

"How?" I asked Traiger. "Just pretend it's a cell phone, and hold it to your ear," he suggested.

Finally, I reached my target — or at least the Magellan told me so. All I saw was grass, mulch and some scraggly palms.

"The cache is big, and it isn't buried," Traiger assured me. Buried caches are no-nos, because they'd lead people to dig up treacherous and unsightly holes in public spaces.

After several more minutes, I spotted a plastic jar painted camouflage green — and nestled in close-growing tree trunks. The lid was missing: Some crafty cache-finder had substituted a halved coconut.

Gleefully, I pulled out the booty: a pinball-style soccer game not much bigger than a deck of cards, a wee rubber duckie keychain signed by the "Lehigh Mafia" geocache team. Film canisters with tiny, rolled-up log sheets for folks who want to start their own micro-caches. An aerosol hand sanitizer from Doc-Dean, for germ-conscious cachers.

I took nothing, because I'd forgotten to bring along a replacement trinket.

However, I did take away memories of an entertaining hour spent at a lovely park — and the tale of a treasure hunt to share.

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