My Love Hate Relationship with Geocaching
Over the years I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with geocaching. Lately I’ve been drifting more towards the hate side, although I’m still an active participant. My biggest issue is that people don’t seem to think about where the place caches. The impact I see caused by the location of certain caches is turning me away from wanting to be an active participant.
That isn’t to say that geocaching doesn’t have a number of notable positive impacts too. ‘Cache-in Trash-out’ type events promote being good to Earth and help people think about their impact. Geocaching gets people outside– and pardon the stereotype but many geocachers I see are people that might not otherwise spend a lot of time outdoors. That is a wonderful thing and great to see.
Geocaching is also educational, teaching people about the coordinate system, how to read a map, and navigation. People often reflect about how they found a “new to them” area not too far from where they live. It gets people out exploring their own area more completely as well as discovering new areas outside of their neighborhood. Geocaching has a number of worthwhile benefits.
But lately I’ve become a bit turned off by caches placed in places where they simply shouldn’t be. While each area is different, I’d say more than half of the geocaches I’ve visited in recent years are located in places where I just don’t think a geocache belongs. Here are a few reasons why.
Stay on Marked Trail
As a hiker, a sign I come across often reads ‘Stay on Marked Trail‘. The sign isn’t simply a warning that you could get lost if you wonder off the trail– it most often means the nearby soils and vegetation are highly sensitive to foot traffic. Even without the sign a number of geocachers in one area can have a significant impact on the soils and vegetation. Popular caches often end up developing their own “trail” that leads from a marked, established trail into the woods towards the cache. My belief is that geocaching shouldn’t be inadvertently creating new trails.
While grabbing dozens of caches in one day can be fun, I also dislike the density of caches popping up in certain areas. The geocaching guidelines suggest caches be placed at least one tenth of a mile apart (about 528 feet) however that hardly seems enough in my opinion. Geocaching seems to have turned into a numbers game for many people where the number of caches they find is far more important than the experience they have. To each their own. But I can’t help but look at some of the geocache maps and think to myself “each box on the map shows where someone has left a metal box or tupperware container out in the natural environment”.
For awhile this Spring/Summer it seemed like every couple of weeks an article would appear in a local paper somewhere about a someone stumbling upon a geocache, thinking it was a bomb, and the bomb squad being called in. I thought the trend had diminished, but just as I was drafting this article another report appeared. These types of incidents place the hobby in a negative light and cause unnecessary scare and inconvenience. Regardless if the cache was well placed and marked it is too bad that tax dollars are being wasted when the bomb squad gets called in to dispose caches.
Ironically, just yesterday I had a few minutes of time to kill and decided to stop by a small park that was nearby. I thought there must be a geocache in the area so I pulled out the iPhone app. Sure enough, there was a cache I hadn’t found a few hundred feet away. The cache turned out to be near the top of a steep embankment made of sandy soil. Sure enough in a line straight up to the cache (and nowhere else on the embankment) the embankment was crumbling and eroding away into the pond. The cache was also placed about 100 feet from a cemetery. While the Geocaching Guidelines don’t seem to prohibit that, they do mention that caches shouldn’t be placed in areas highly sensitive to extra traffic and cite cemeteries as an example.
Many of the issues I’ve mentioned don’t specifically go against any of the official Geocaching Guidelines, so I hardly ever “report” a cache. And I do enjoy geocaching as a hobby when I discover caches which are well placed. It just seems that as the hobby grows in popularity the number of poorly placed caches is rising quickly and with it my enthusiasm and excitement dropping just as fast.