‘Geocaching’ a family-fun quest

Posted Aug. 09, 2009, at 9:13 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — The Scott family was on the hunt Sunday afternoon at the Merryspring Nature Center’s “geocaching” event, Geotrek. The trio stalked through high grasses and carefully scanned the trees. But everyone followed Japheth, 10, who held a global positioning system device programmed to lead the family to a treasure cache called Big Nose.

“We’re out to maybe get lost a few times, but hey, I’m cool with that,” said his mother, Beverly Scott.

Suddenly, Japheth stopped next to a tree with an unmistakably noselike feature. His sister Ginna, 6, looked around until she located a plastic box packed with toy magnifying glasses and pretend insects.

“Ginna found the box,” her mom said. “How fun!”

It was the family’s first foray into the fast-growing hobby of geocaching, which has a diehard fan base here in Maine. The game started in Oregon in 2000, Merryspring organizers said, when someone decided to combine orienteering, treasure hunting and new technology. First, players hide a treasure box, or cache, then post its location coordinates along with details about the hiding spot. Once the cache is located, finders log their visit in a logbook and often get to take a trinket from the box and leave another in its place.

Caroline Fournier of Old Town is a Merryspring volunteer who helped pack and hide the caches.

“That was a lot of fun,” Fournier said. “We tried to find really good spots — locations in the park that are key features, that might get them into parts of the park they haven’t been to before.”

She said that geocaching might be a good antidote to what many see as a modern problem.

“It’s a great thing that gets kids outside, which has decreased a bit over the years,” Fournier said. “It’s exciting to see families get out.”

The Scotts were ready for an off-road adventure — even though Ginna was wearing a long green princess gown. As Beverly Scott followed her son through the lush late-summer landscape, she said she did have some mixed feelings about the technological demands of the game.

“On the one hand, we’re looking at this GPS instead of at nature, and that’s kind of sad,” Scott said. “On the other hand, you go places you’ve never been.”

While the Scotts were new at geocaching, the free activity at Merryspring did attract some hard-core local players, such as Brad Wing of Brewer.

Wing — who uses the cache name “Mainiac1957” — has found 3,000 caches since he started participating in the activity six years ago.

“Geocaching has just exploded in the last three years,” he said. “This event was intended to put some new people out.”

For more information on geocaching, visit the Web site www.geocaching.com.

For more information about Merryspring Nature Center, call 236-2239 or visit the Web site www.merryspring.org.

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