First, a few dates…
- May 1, 2000 – Selective Availability was turned off. All civilian GPS units instantly become 10 times more accurate.
- May 3, 2000 – David Ulmer hides a bucket of goodies near Seattle and posts the coordinates on a news group. Mike Teague puts up a website to track log entries about the cache.
- July, 2000 – Jeremy Irish, in conjunction with Teague, puts together Geocaching.com, which casts the activity in it’s now-known form.
- Today – nearly 150,000 caches hidden in over 200 countries, with several competing sites offering their own caching systems.
It’s been awhile since I started with Geocaching, and this article was published in the Greenville News about the sport (well, activity, actually.) I actually got started in the very early months, and place several of the first caches in the Upstate. In the intervening years I’ve taken some time off from Geocaching as scheduling demands and technology limitations kept me from the sport. This past Christmas Santa brought a new GPS unit, so I’ve gotten more active, and boy, have there been some changes in the short time I’ve been away. Here are some of my observations, as best as I can piece together…
The primary purpose of the game was to find a box in the woods using lat/lon coordinates uploaded to a website. As the game matured, variations and conflict inevitably krept in. The first concern was about environmental impact. Trails were being gouged out of pristine ecosystems as hunters tramped to various caches. I personally was able to find several caches just by spotting the impact trails. For awhile, a local park ranger was active in the sport. His MO was to find the caches only by impact signs, without use of a GPS at all. My first cache, Mountain Lake Falls, was removed because of the impact it was having on the environment around Paris Mountain. Subsequently, caches were banned from all National Parks and limitations were placed on various state park systems.
Then came the virtuals. Virtual caches were placed where it might not be appropriate to hide a physical box due to concerns about vandelism and lack of hiding spots, or environmental impact. With the events of 9/11/01 and heightened concern about terrorism, the placing of a physical box in a hidden location caused even more concerns and encounters with law enforcement, so the popularity of virtuals took off. Virtuals take very little effort to create, so soon just about any little roadside monument had a virtual geocache associated with it. And so TPTB (The Powers That Be) imposed strict limitations on what was to be approved as a virtual cache. Even now, there is discuss of placing virtuals on their own site altogether and removing them from the main cache website.
Microcaches had been around for awhile – typically a 35mm film container with a rolled up log and no items for exchange. With the restrictions placed on virtuals, the number of microcaches increased, Former virtual cache creators would now simply toss out a microcache where they previously would have placed a virtual. There are some wonderfully creative virtual and microcaches, but many of these types were just placed willy-nilly for the sake of having a cache.
And so discussions about cache saturation and the quality of various caches takes off. Should a park-n-grab cache have the same panache as one that requires a 3-mile hike? What does a cacher’s stats really tell you? Most of these discussions take place in the Groundspeak Forums associated with the Geocaching.com website, and many of them have been quite heated. Several factions, dissatisfied with approval processes at Geocaching.com and TPTB’s unwillingness to provide access to their databases, started their own competing sites, most notably Navicache.
So what would my advice to new cachers be? First, be aware of the environment as you cache. Don’t disturb the natural surroundings as you either place or look for caches and be aware of safety and property concerns. Second – have fun. If you want information about the sport/game/activity, visit various sites and the different discussion forums, but don’t get wrapped up in the discussions. It’s useless. As Jeremy Irish, founder of Geocaching.com, stated in a recent post, “I manage a site that lists plastic containers in the woods.” I think that should give us all a bit of perspective.