Jim Powers, left, took his 17-year-old grandson to a geocaching workshop. REI instructor Dave Burton discussed safety measures, how to use a GPS device and provided other tips about geacaching before taking participatns out to search for a cache.
A modern twist on treasure hunting has captured the interest of more and more people. And now many Georgia cities and other destinations are jumping on the bandwagon as well, recognizing that it’s a good way to stimulate tourism.
Geocaching is an activity in which a GPS device or smartphone is used to follow coordinates to find hidden caches. Once the cache is found, the seekers record their names in a logbook inside the cache. Some caches hold trinkets and people are encouraged to take one and leave something of equal value. Caches can be plastic ammo boxes hidden under a log in the woods or a small—sometimes ultra-small (think the size of a thumbnail)—magnetic container placed under a bench or some other inconspicuous place.
There are an estimated 2.4 million geocaches hidden worldwide, according to geocaching.com. Some geocachers have found hundreds of caches, and travel extensively to discover new finds.
While many caches are hidden by “regular” people—geocache hobbyists—city officials across Georgia are now hiding caches of their own, recognizing that it attracts visitors to their destinations. Officials hope that explorers who come to a destination to geocache for the first time may return again once they are familiar with the area.
The city of Blackshear jumped into the geocaching game a year and a half ago when a local couple asked city officials to partner on a geocache tour. The first tour, which lasted a day and a half, attracted about 100 people to the small town with a population of about 3,500. A special geocoin was created and hidden in the caches for the treasure hunters, and revenue from the hotel/motel tax of those who stayed overnight paid for the coins, according to Tommy Lowmon, Blackshear’s Better Hometown manager and economic development director.
Lowmon said tour attendees were surveyed about their length of stay and spending habits and the results were “staggering.” The average geocacher stayed in Blackshear for three to four days and spent $83 per day per person, he said.
Now the geocache program is an ongoing activity in Blackshear with 50 geocaches hidden in Blackshear and Pierce County.
“We love it,” said Lowmon. “It’s bringing in a lot of money.” Last year Blackshear’s Geocaching Challenge program was lauded by the Georgia Downtown Association and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and given a Gold Award for Promotion in Downtown Development. Geocaching.com chose Blackshear as one of the seven best geocaching areas for beginners. In October, an estimated 1,000 geocachers are expected to descend on Rome for the Geocaching Mega Event. The five-day affair—Oct. 15-19—will take attendees throughout Rome including stops at the historic Clocktower, State Mutual Stadium and Ridge Ferry Park. Geocaching.com founder and chief executive officer Jeremy Irish of Seattle is expected to attend.
The Yellow River Water Trail in Porterdale now has its own geocaches, and Georgia State Parks have joined the fun. Park officials have hidden 46 caches in 43 state parks from Cloudland Canyon in Rising Fawn, to Skidaway Island in Savannah. There’s also a historic trails geocache tour in the parks with treasures hidden in 14 state park sites. Participants can get a geocache passport and grid sheet from the state’s website, gastateparks. org. Workshops are being held at several state parks to teach beginners how to get started, including the upcoming Nov. 15 “Geocaching 101 Workshop” at F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain. Details of the state parks program can be found at gastateparks.org/geocaching.