Treasure hunts go high-tech around the county
Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette
Ti Lor will go through a lot for a little bit of treasure.
The Gaithersburg man is a Geocacher, devotee to a hobby that uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to find coordinates marking boxes of untold treasures—fast food toys, rubber balls, coupons, novelty pens. And though the items found in the hidden caches are not of much monetary value, Lor said he enjoys the hobby because he was a born treasure hunter.
"I was pretty much hooked on it," Lor said of his first time Geocaching at the suggestion of a friend.
Like a high-tech scavenger hunt, Geocaching is a world-wide hobby, fueled by the Web site geocaching.com, where hobbyists post coordinates of caches they've hidden for others to find with GPS devices. Caches have different degrees of difficulty, and it's a sport that anyone can do, Lor said.
"Your cache can be hiding on easy terrain right off a sidewalk to somewhere you basically have to have climbing gear," Lor said.
The point is not so much what's in the box, but the location of the box itself. Caches can be everywhere from urban parking lots under lamp skirts to public parks, to the middle of rivers and the tops of remote cliffs.
For his part, Lor has even ventured into a Montgomery Count y sewer to gain the rush of discovering something most people never even know is there.
"They basically call it a Psycho Cache," Lor said of the hunts like that one. "It's where you can't be afraid of getting dirty or dangerous or of gross things."
The Maryland Municipal League is hoping to cash in on the Geocaching phenomenon in a tamer way with its creation of the Maryland Municipal League Geo Trail, a partnership with the Maryland Geocaching Society. The MML has enlisted 76 municipalities, including Kensington, to put caches on public property in their towns as a means of promoting visitors and tourism.
Linda Burrell, the manager of member relations and education for the MML, said when the program officially kicks off in January, Geocachers will be able to obtain passports from designated visitors centers. Each participating municipality will have a rubber stamp and a code word in its cache, as well as coupons for town restaurants and other local items. The first 500 Geocachers to find two caches in each of the 11 regional districts will receive a collectable "GeoCoin," a trackable item coveted by Geocachers.
"Geocachers rarely need an added incentive because Geocachers that are really hard core just can't wait until a new cache opens up," Burrell said, but the addition of the GeoCoin will encourage enthusiasts who want the lowest tracking numbers.
"Geocachers tend to like to be the first ones to find things," Burrell explained.
"We've already received phone calls, the (Maryland) Geocaching Society has received a lot of phone calls and people just can't wait for this to come online," Burrell said.
The MML Geo Trail is based on the Allegheny Geo Trail, which runs through 10 counties in northern Pennsylvania. Tom Vidnovic, a Gaithersburg Geocacher that started the hobby at the encouragement of Lor, said he's done Allegheny and enjoyed getting out and about in his home state.
"I was extremely glad to hear that they were starting something similar in Maryland," Vidnovic said.
Vidnovic said Geocaching is always a small adventure. While he was doing the Allegheny Geo Trail, he said he had to park his Ford Mustang on a remote dirt road in the wee hours of the morning.
"A police officer actually approached us wondering if it was stolen, because why would a Mustang be parked in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road?"
In addition to normal caches, Geocaches can find Puzzle Caches, in which one must solve a puzzle to earn the coordinates, multi-caches, where clues for the cache location are left in another cache, and night caches, which are only to be sought after dark. There are also trackable items like Travel Bugs, which Geocachers register on the site as having a mission. For example, Lor started a travel bug that was a hockey puck, and made its mission to travel to caches at hockey arenas around the United States. Collectible GeoCoins can also be an incentive for those who are the first to find a cache, or accomplish some other achievement.
Vidnovic said Geocaching has "something for everyone."
"It's a great way to be outside, to actually be searching for something and takes you to places you might not get to see otherwise," Vidnovic said. "I think it's a great way to combine technology and nature."