Wherever you may be right now in Fairfax County, chances are there are hidden treasures within a mile or two of your location. To find them, all you need to do is login to website www.geocaching.com, download longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates, and then plug them into a handheld GPS device.
“That’s when the adventure begins,” said Oak Hill resident Chris Hughes, 51, who is a “geocacher,” one of a growing number of treasure hunters who use satellite technology to search for “caches” hidden by fellow geocachers.
Often, trinkets are placed inside airtight and waterproof containers, along with logbooks for those discovering the treasure to sign. The containers are often creatively hidden in logs, trees or other natural locations. Many geocachers share trinkets; coins, etc., exchanging one into the container for one they might keep as a souvenir of their find.
“Geocaching began in May 2000, when the federal government allowed civilian users of GPS technology to use available satellites to pinpoint locations up to ten times more accurately than could until that point in time,” Hughes said.
According to Hughes, there are currently more than 500,000 “caches” hidden in creative locations throughout the U.S., including several thousand within the D.C. metro area, which he says is a hotbed for geocaching. “There are more than 500 caches within 8 miles of my house in Oak Hill,” he said.
Hughes, who is currently a board member and past president of the Northern Virginia Geocaching Organization (www.Novago.org) says anyone can become a geocacher.
“I got involved about five years ago when a friend suggested we try it, and now I’m hooked,” he said.
Locally, the activity has become so popular that the Fairfax County Park Authority has implemented guidelines for geocachers who use park property for their quests.
George Hornberger of Vienna, a former vice president of Novago, says the group, made up of about 1,200 local members, is pretty diverse. “I’d say it’s maybe 60 percent men and 40 percent women and encompasses all ages,” he said. Hornberger said he personally has uncovered 3,000 caches and hidden about 60 himself.
“It is pretty popular and a lot of people are doing it,” said Fairfax Country Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Petersen. “The Northern Virginia Geocaching Organization actually helped us to promulgate our regulations so geocachers could utilize our parks.”
According to Dan Southerland of the park authority’s Park Operations Division, the county gets 3 to 4 requests a month, or about 50 a year, from geocachers wishing to hide a “cache” on park property for others to find.
“For the most part, geocachers are very environmentally friendly,” Petersen said. “They often pick up litter that they might happen to run across, so we are happy to have them.”
Hughes estimates that he has uncovered about 3,700 caches nationwide since he began in 2007, but says that number is not anywhere near being a record. “I have heard of geocachers who have discovered upwards of 30,000 caches,” he said. “Anyone can participate. Nowadays, there are even GPS applications that can be downloaded onto smartphones that can be used to find caches. A large component of the fun is documenting the journey with photos. That’s part of the adventure.”