Many of Ontario’s Conservation Areas offer a stunning backdrop for a geocaching adventure, provided seekers respect their natural surroundings
“Congratulations, you’ve found it! Intentionally or not!”
This was the message that greeted my friend and I as we eagerly opened up our first geocache.
In our case, the find was very intentional. We’d spent the last 20 minutes or so searching intently. I held the global positioning system (GPS) device, excitedly calling out “Left! No, right! North… umm… maybe north-east?” and other contradictory directions, while my friend peered over my shoulder and double-checked our progress with his compass. We zigzagged around, peering under trees and around rocks and other possible hiding places until finally my friend cried “I found it!”
We popped the lid off the Tupperware container we had found hidden among the roots of an overturned stump and found an assortment of small objects, including a toy goat, a plastic necklace, a flipbook, a pin, and a kaleidoscope.
By this point, you may be asking yourself the same question that appears on the information sheet we found in the geocache container: “What is this hidden container sitting here for? What the heck is this thing doing here with all these things in it?”
My friend and I had just joined a rapidly expanding, global community of geocachers. Geocaching is a high tech scavenger hunt where GPS users track down hidden “caches” filled with small treasures. These caches are placed by other geocachers, who publish the exact location coordinates online for others to see.
Geocaching often involves hiking, which makes Ontario’s Conservation Areas popular geocaching spots. I was planning to visit some conservation areas anyway, and I was curious to see if these areas had already been visited by geocachers. So, the search for our first geocache had in fact begun the night before when I found the longitude and latitude coordinates for the conservation area I was planning to visit on the www.ontarioconservationareas.ca website, and used them to search the www.geocaching.com website to see if there were any caches hidden nearby. Sure enough, the area had two. I checked the terrain and difficulty ratings for these caches to make sure I wasn’t getting into more than I could handle as a novice, read the hints other users had provided describing the location of the cache and the type of container I needed to look for, and downloaded the coordinates into my GPS. The next morning we set off to hunt for the hidden treasure.
One of the most important things to remember while geocaching is to keep on the establish trails. Even if the trail doesn’t head in exactly the right direction, odds are it will turn or bring you to a fork in road, since geocachers are asked to follow the established trails when hiding new caches. Not only will you have a more pleasant hike if you keep to the trails, but even one person hiking off the trail can damage the environment in sensitive areas. Imagine then the havoc that a whole troop of enthusiastically searching geocache seekers could wreak on areas with rare or delicate ecology.
Because of these ecological concerns a few Conservation Authorities, like Credit Valley Conservation, do not permit geocaching on their properties. Find out what the Conservation Authority’s policy is before you go, especially if you’re planning to place a new cache. At some Conservation Authorities, including the Niagara Peninsula CA, Hamilton Region CA, and Conservation Halton, you must fill out a permit application before you will be allowed to place a new cache. This is to ensure that caches are placed in appropriate spots that won’t cause environmental damage. It’s also important to note that geocaches should never be buried, since this is almost always disruptive to the environment. Instead, caches should be hidden in natural crevices around rocks, stumps, or trees. They may also be camouflaged for an added element of challenge.
Provided that geocachers are environmentally conscious, geocaching is permitted at most conservation areas, although many Conservation Authorities do not have formal programs that support geocaching. Some areas, however, offer special events featuring geocaching. For example a few Conservation Authorities offer educational school programs that use GPS units, Nottawasaga Valley’s Tiffin Centre hosts an annual geocaching retreat, and Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority has GPS units available to loan out to visitors.
Conservation Authorities may also ask the person who places the cache to come back and check it occasionally to ensure that the contents remain “family friendly” and appropriate. Putting food items in a cache is always a bad idea, since one should never underestimate the determination of a hungry animal with a strong nose. Geocachers are encouraged to exchange a couple of things in the cache for items of equal value. We claimed the goat from our first geocache we found and left a toy car in its place.
We signed the logbook in the geocache and wrote a few words about our experience. Geocache seekers are encouraged to log their finds on www.geocaching.com as well. You can also post pictures to share your experience.
A few of the must-have items while geocaching include extra GPS batteries, plus all the things you would regularly take hiking, like sturdy shoes, water bottles and bug spray. It’s also a good idea to mark your parking spot as a waypoint on your GPS before you set off, since, silly as it sounds, it’s not difficult to get disoriented while you’re focused on searching.
The skeptics among you may wonder what’s so appealing about looking for a Tupperware container full of trinkets. There’s a reason, however, why geocaching is becoming so popular. Don’t forget to look around while geocaching, not only to avoid tripping and tree branches, but also to appreciate your surroundings. Geocaching can take you to some amazing places. Even in my limited geocaching experience so far, I’ve been to roaring waterfalls, deep cedar forests, and sapphire blue lakes seeking caches. Plus, geocaching is a great excuse to get outdoors and active with your friends and family. Geocachers don’t go in search of the trinkets that they exchange, but for the experience that they gain. When hike becomes a hunt, you may be surprised at how much you get caught up in the thrill of the chase.
Melissa Rodgers is a student at Carleton University. Her passions include history, cooking, reading, and the great outdoors.