By Amy Thompson
Scavenger hunts are a common program at most camps. As with all camp programs, the specific details of the hunt (how many people to a team, how many items to find, etc.) may vary, but the general concept is the same--teams of campers and/or staff work to find a variety of items around camp and report back to the starting line before their competitors. No matter how many times you play or how old you are, the game’s always the same and it’s always fun.
The relatively new game of geocaching is simply a high-tech version of this age-old favorite. Well, maybe a better description is “higher-tech” because while this game does utilize some “gee-whiz” technology, it’s inexpensive to bring to your camp and very easy to play.
But first, a definition--geocaching is a game that uses a global positioning system (GPS) to find treasures (caches) scattered around a camp, community, county, state or country. The term, coined by Matt Stum, one of the original players in May 2000, comes from the prefix “geo-” referring to the Earth and “caching” referring to the process of hiding or finding a treasure. Caches are often Tupperware boxes or ammo cans that contain a variety of small items to be traded and a journal for geocachers to record their experience.
The game’s popularity has mushroomed and is now played all over the world by anyone with access to a GPS system (from $80 to $100) and the Internet.
How To Play
To play the game simply:
1. Visit www.geocaching.com and enter your zip code.
2. The site will return a list of caches in your area along with their GPS coordinates.
3. Decide which cache you would like to try to find.
4. Enter the coordinates into your hand-held GPS system and begin your search.
It’s really that easy.
How To Use A GPS
Like the GPS system in your car or other electrical gadgets now becoming abundantly available at your local Radio Shack, a hand-held GPS is essentially a receiver tuned into the government’s satellites cruising 11,000 miles overhead. These satellites transmit longitudinal and latitudinal locations to your GPS receiver, which is capable of knowing where you’re at and where you’re going (the GPS coordinates you entered in at the beginning of your search). Most models simply use an arrow on the read-out to show you which direction to head and how far you are from your destination. Your job is to follow the arrow.
The accuracy of GPS units varies, sometimes greatly, but most inexpensive models will get you within several feet of your target. Then, the real fun begins, as your team scatters to scour the surrounding area in search of that well-hidden cache and your prize.
Geocaching At Camp
Unlike the Internet, e-mail and cell phones which sometimes have been a mixed blessing for camps, geocaching offers increasingly tech-savvy campers a fun, team-building experience with a sophisticated, 21st-century feel.
As Nikki Theobald, one of our teen campers at Camp Joy, says, “I love geocaching. It’s so much fun to take turns as the leader with the GPS. When we get close to the cache, we all spread out and race to see who can find it first. It becomes a fun competition.”
If you offer tripping programs or adventure groups that travel off camp property, you can participate in the true geocaching game by downloading the coordinates for caches in the areas you plan to travel to. The group can take camp memorabilia to leave behind in the caches. We do that here at Camp Joy.
Theobald recalls her favorite off-site geocaching experience: “The coolest cache we ever did was one that had five steps to it. We found the first cache and it had new coordinates to send us to the next place. One of the caches was hidden in a stuffed animal fur. It looked dead. It was so cool. No one wanted to touch it at first, until we realized it wasn’t real.”
Geocaching Camp Ideas
Some camps create their own geocaching courses and use them to teach in conjunction with a map and compass or as a separate activity.
Some camps have adapted geocaching to a nighttime activity. Participants, armed with a flashlight and GPS, find the first location and open the cache to discover a clue instructing them to follow the glow-in-the-dark markers to the next cache. In one nighttime version, each cache contains the ingredients for s’mores. The final destination is the campfire ring--and a tasty treat.
Other camps have used geocaching as part of their closing program. In this case, caches can be set up around camp, sending participants from place to place to record their answers to reflective questions in several camp journals. The final cache contains cabin pictures, t-shirts or other awards for that group.
At Camp Joy, we have been using geocaching and GPS programming for a number of years with all our audiences--corporate groups, teen campers and families. We typically receive great feedback to these programs. One camper commented that he enjoys hiking more now because he knows he is looking for something specific. He also enjoys being part of a group with a common goal.
Many of our teen campers have worked together to create a geocache. They fill it with items representing Camp Joy--things like our ladybug mascot, bumper stickers, etc. They place the cache on an island in the middle of a lake in a nearby park. Once the campers are back at home, they log onto the geocaching Web site to see how many people have found their cache. The game goes on and on and on.
With geocaching, the sky truly is the limit.
Amy Thompson is Camps and Retreats Director for Camp Joy (Joy Outdoor Education Center) in Clarksville, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at Amy.Thompson@joec.org.