Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Feeling adventurous? Hunt for geocaches at Dune State Park

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By KEVIN NEVERS

It’s a little like treasure hunting, if by treasure you mean intrinsically worthless baubles. It’s a little like map reading, if by map you mean a sophisticated device capable of pinpointing your location anywhere on earth to an accuracy of 10 feet.

It’s geocaching, and on any given day at Indiana Dunes State Park (IDSP) you’re liable to run into someone on the trail—or off the trail—rummaging around a hollow tree or beneath a rotten log looking to hide or find a geocache.

Geocaching, as IDSP Interpretive Naturalist Brad Bumgardner says, is “using multi-billion dollar government satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.”

Here’s the idea: in 2000 the U.S. government deactivated scrambling devices on its global positioning system (GPS) satellites, allowing anyone with a GPS unit to conceal containers filled with gewgaws and gimcrack in odd places, post to the Internet the latitude and longitude of the container, and give others with GPS units the ability to track those containers: “‘Find my box, take an item inside it, leave an item, and sign my logbook’: that’s geocaching in a nutshell, Bumgardner says.

Until a few years ago geocaching was a mystery to Bumgardner. Then one day a hiker stumbled on a Tupperware container at Pokagon State Park, his previous posting, and asked Bumgardner to explain it. That container, he later learned, turned out to be someone’s geocache.

Bumgardner himself quickly caught the bug—along with his girlfriend, Amber—and together they’ve found hundreds of caches throughout the Midwest. Eventually he turned his hobby into a job description, by introducing organized geocaching programs to the Division of State Parks & Reservoirs, including the “Spring into Geocaching” contest last year and the IDSP Cacher’s Campout in September at the Wilson Shelter.

For his initiative Bumgardner was presented earlier this year with the Lucy Pitschler Award, an annual honor given to full-time interpretive naturalists in recognition of “innovation, creativity, or excellence that advances interpretation.”

For Bumgardner the appeal of geocaching has virtually nothing to do with the actual contents of a geocache—typically trinkets called “trade items” like McToys or marbles and a logbook and pencil to record your visit—and everything to do with the journey. Your only clue to the location of a geocache is its coordinates. They could lead you, and you’ll never know until you get there, to a Kmart parking lot. Or to some secluded nook at IDSP.

“My three favorite caches took me to new and exciting places that I never knew existed,” Bumgardner remembers. “One was at Spring Hill State Park in Mitchell, another was overlooking a dune west of Mackinaw, and another was an unknown nature preserve in West Central Indiana called The Potholes. None ever had any real trade items. . . . It was always the place that made the trip worthwhile.”

Is there a bit of the Indiana Jones in you? Have you ever dreamed about the Lost Dutchman or King Solomon’s Mines? Then get yourself a GPS unit and go exploring. “The real secret of geocaching is that your GPS unit is going to take you to a new site, a new park, or a new area of the park you’ve never been to before,” Bumgardner says. “Folks get into it for the sense of adventure. You never know if you will find it or what will be in it when you do. There’s more of that sense of adventure than anything you’re going to pull out of the geocache itself.”

“Geocaching is also a pretty low impact hobby that helps bring people into the parks,” Bumgardner adds. “In terms of educating people and introducing them to our unique natural and cultural resources, it’s a new tool. As GPS popularity grows, it allows us to stay in the mainstream.”

There are currently seven geocaches concealed at IDSP, two placed by the DNR and five by local geocachers. The latter first had to apply for a permit, Bumgardner notes, “to determine whether it will have any negative impact on the resources, since a lot of this is off-trail.”

Beginners can best get their feet wet, Bumgardner says, by visiting the official global GPS cache hunt website at www.geocaching.com

 Become a member, then type your zip code into the search engine on the site to produce a list of geocaches in your area.

Dunelanders interested in giving geocaching a shot will have the perfect opportunity on Saturday, Jan. 17, when IDSP will hold the Indiana Dunes Geocache Adventure: Sand & Snow Blowout. It starts at 11:30 a.m. with registration and social time at the Nature Center, where the cache coordinates will be posted. Then, at 12 p.m., geocachers will hit the trails in search of eight caches, each containing a poker card in a sealed envelope. Best poker hand at the end of the day wins a prize. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m. and a chili dump at 4:30 p.m. will compete the day.

 

Posted 1/6/2009

 

 

 

 

 

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