Finding hidden treasures

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Librarian Lesa Cole shows off the Iola Public Library’s hidden geocache. A geocache is a prize hidden in plain sight that requires a bit of sleuthing, using GPS coordinates or solving clues, to locate. The practice harkens back to finding hidden treasure and is gaining in popularity as the price of hand-held GPS units goes down and families seek low-cost, all-ages entertainment.

There’s treasure hidden in them thar trees. Or graveyards. Or grassy meadow along an Allen County road.
With geocaching, the treasure can be almost anywhere — providing it’s public land. The object is to find hidden containers and share the hunt online.
For locals, the Iola Public Library has become a geocaching base. From 6 to 8 p.m. Friday head librarian Lesa Cole will conduct a geocaching workshop. Storage containers and camouflage will be provided. Participants should bring a small item or items to put inside their caches, Cole said, and a GPS unit if available. For more information, call the library at 365-3262. A minimum of six people is required. Cole will reschedule the workshop if the minimum does not sign up.

LIBRARIAN COLE began the hobby in 2007. At the time, she said, there was only one geocache in Iola. Now, she said, there are many.
Geocaching is simple. “You take an airtight, watertight container,” Cole said, and in it put a small notebook and pen, plus some small trinket that would be interesting for others to find.
Next, you camouflage your cache and hide it on public land. Cemeteries are popular spots for caches in southeast Kansas, she said.
Once hidden, geocachers log their stash’s coordinates onto the geocaching Web site, www.geocaching.com, plus add clues for its location.
“The GPS will take you within 10 to 20 feet of the item. It’s not going to take you to the item itself,” she said. “That’s the fun — looking.”
Between the clues and the coordinates, most caches are found.
Once located, a seeker opens the cache. “You trade out what you find for something of equal or greater value,” Cole said. Then you sign the notebook with your name and date, and seal the box back up for another hunter to locate.
“You have to place it back in the exact location,” she said, “or the next person won’t find it.”
One thing you don’t do is take the canister, she said.
“One of the first ones we placed disappeared the next day. I posted online that the cache was missing, and the next day it was returned. They just didn’t know,” she said of the finder.
That’s why, Cole said, many geocaches also contain a short etiquette guide, explaining what geocaching is and how to go about continuing the practice. It’s rather like a worldwide scouting club.
The global popularity of the hobby has even touched Iola caches.
“We placed one travel bug that ended up in Australia,” Cole said.
Travel bugs, she explained, are identification tags attached to an item, asking that the item be moved on to a new cache. In that way, some items travel quite far.
In addition, some people place objects particular to them, “rather like a calling card,” Cole noted.
A family from New Mexico that came through Iola recently found the library cache and placed a tile made from their native clay, Cole said. Others place business-related items, or personal identifiers.
“My parents placed little colored cars,” she said. Her mom, who died last year, now has a geocache in Paola placed in her memory. “It’s called Patty’s Pink,” Cole said, “because everything in it is pink.”
Other caches have similarly descriptive names. There’s “Wishing Well #2,” “Echo Chamber,” “Lillie’s Heart,” and of course, the library’s cache, “Shhhh.”

NAMING THE caches is part of the fun of placing them, Cole said. She said any container, as long as it is weatherproof, can be used.
“We use gallon coolers we get at yard sales,” she said. Tupperware is also popular, she said. So are ammunition boxes, or even large tubs.
Cole, with her husband Larry and son Matthew, have placed 27 caches in and around Iola since taking up the hobby.
Caches can range in size from tiny to very large. “There’s even one that’s a 55 gallon drum,” she said.
Cole said there are many people in the area geocaching, as evidenced by the online logs and variety of items that come and go through the boxes. She has found a 1904 penny, jewelry, pocket watch, blue glass slipper and Rubik’s cube, she said.
Some caches have themes, like one her family placed out of town with doggy supplies. Cole’s family often takes their Jack Russell terrier with them, and she has heard back from others who were appreciative of the effort to include canine companions in the chase. Another stash Cole knows of is full of children’s toys.
What Cole would really like to do is place an underwater cache, she said. “I saw it in a movie. It was great,” she said.
Another idea she has is to use a disposable camera as a travel bug, and have the last person to shoot pictures post them to the Web site. “It would be great to see where it has been,” she said.

“PEOPLE GEOCACHE all over the world,” Cole said. That bodes well for travelers, or families looking for inexpensive entertainment.
“One weekend we went through Oklahoma and Arkansas and back up,” Cole said. “That was on purpose. We went online and found geocaches along the way, and spent the weekend looking for them. It was a lot of fun.”
“I got one 14-year-old into it,” she said, “and he got a bunch of his friends involved. Now they all look for them.”
Standard geocaching requires a GPS unit. As prices of the handheld mapping devices have come down, more and more people of all ages have been able to participate in the hobby, Cole said.
“You can get a good GPS unit for about $120 ,” she said. Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough — occasionally, a cache is removed or destroyed.
Cole noted a cache elsewhere in Kansas that was found by the community’s sheriff. Unfamiliar with the sport, he had the cache, which had been stashed in a PVC pipe, destroyed as a potential bomb threat.
“That’s why you’re supposed to properly label them ‘Geocache’ and have the geocaching Web address on them,” Cole noted.
Other caches have been destroyed through road work or brush clearing, she said. “Sometimes, nature takes them,” she added.
Cole recommends being sure caches are placed above high water lines, and are invisible even after foliage dies back in the winter.
“Some are made to look like rocks, but they’re not rocks,” she said. “Sometimes people get quite inventive and hang them from trees.”
The hobby has really opened her eyes. “There are roads in Allen County that I never knew existed,” she observed.
A few communities even have geocaching events, she noted.
“Miami County did one where you went on a run to different farms,” she said.
Local treasure hunters can find caches by checking the Web site, and inputting their zip code or town name. The site lists GPS coordinates near the cache, plus clues to help locate it. Caches in the Iola area include ones in Humboldt, Gas, LaHarpe, and Iola cemeteries.