Geocaching gaining popularity

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2005

Traipsing across the grassy areas of the KidsZone playground behind the Main Street Farm Fresh, Ann Walters is on a treasure hunt.

She doesn't have a compass. She doesn't have a very descriptive map. She doesn't even really know what she's looking for, or who put it there.

That's because she's geocaching n and she's one of hundreds in Hampton Roads that's getting hooked on what Walters calls, "a high-tech treasure hunt."

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The concept is simple enough; a member hides a cache (this will be defined soon) somewhere in the city. Clicking over to the Web site, he or she notes the longitude and latitude of the object, and writes a clue about finding it (an example on the one Walters is searching for is, "Cache is NOT located in the playground area so don't bother to look there.").

A cache, the former Holland resident explains, "is something small, like a can or maybe Tupperware. It has to be waterproof, because it will be out in the elements."

Sounds pretty tricky, doesn't it? Don't worry n technology has provided a key to the rescue, a Global Positioning Satellite Receiver. A person enters the location coordinates, and the machine goes to work. It tells a person which direction to go, and how far they are from the object, down to a few feet (Walters says the tools can be purchased at Best Buy, Wal-Mart or other stores).

The numbers on Walters' remote are dropping. Finally, she sees her prize n a small metal box, magnetically pinned to a pole in the playground's picnic area. Opening it, she finds a small log, filled with names of the finders before her.

It's one of several such objects all around Suffolk, she says. There's one near the Fire Mountain restaurant on Main Street, one near Obici Hospital, one in the Harbour View Shopping Center, and several more in northern Suffolk.

"Objects can't be buried," she said. "They can't be on wildlife refuges, within a certain area of military installations, or near railroad tracks."

Since catching geocache fever in Dec. 2003, Walters has hunted through "seven, eight, nine states," she says. On a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. in May, she attended Geocache Woodstock, where more than 600 people from four countries (some had come from Germany and Ireland strictly for the event) hunted all over the area. There's currently about 260 "geocachers" across the area.

"I found over 100 objects that weekend," she says.

"It looked exciting, and it helped me get outside," she says of her reasons for starting. "When I first started, it was pretty much unheard of, and now it's become pretty mainstream. I've lived in Hampton Roads my whole life, and it's taken me to places around here that I never knew existed."

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