Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Decatur's Hidden Treasures



Decatur’s Hidden Treasures

Are you looking for something new and fun to do in Decatur?  Maybe you’re looking for an activity that gets you outside with your kids or your grandkids?  Perhaps you should look into geocaching; a hobby that connects high tech, nature, and enthusiasts young and old!
Geocaching Near Spitler Woods


This area is a veritable treasure trove of geocaches with over 750 hidden treasures located within ten miles of Decatur’s Central Park.  These treasures are called geocaches and represent just a small portion of the 2.3 million geocaches hidden around the world.  Geocaches come in all sorts of shapes and sizes ranging from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a telephone booth.  There are also several different kinds of geocaches, including puzzle caches, geology caches and mystery caches, but most are “traditional caches” which are a small container with a log sheet for you to sign.

There are a variety of ways to start finding geocaches and become a “geocacher”.  One of the most common ways is to go to www.geocaching.com. There, you can sign up for a free account, create your geocaching name and begin searching for geocaches near you.  You then load the coordinates of the caches into a handheld GPSr (Global Positioning Satellite Receiver, commonly called a “GPS”) and head out to make your finds.

Others prefer to use their smartphone’s GPSr features and use apps that they’ve purchased/downloaded.  These applications are multi-purpose, allowing you to use your smartphone to find the cache and to log your find.  Typically, smartphones aren’t as accurate as a GPSr, but they are generally good enough for almost all geocaches.  We geocache using our smartphone almost all all the time.

All geocaches have a terrain and difficulty rating assigned to them.  A terrain rating of 1 means that the cache is wheelchair accessible and a terrain rating of 5 means you may have to climb a mountain, hike a good distance, or even use a boat.  Difficultly ratings also range from 1 to 5.  A cache with a difficulty rating of 1 typically can be found in just a few minutes.  A difficulty of 5 means that the cache will likely require a significant amount of time to find.

Luckily, most of the caches in the Decatur area are rated 1.5/1.5; meaning that they are in relatively easy terrain and they are relatively easy to find.  These caches are ideal for the “newbie”, someone learning how to geocache.

Each geocache is also ranked according to size.  A size of 1 means that the cache is small, the size of a film canister or even smaller.  A cache size of 5 means that the cache is large…maybe the size of a 5 gallon bucket or even the size of a telephone booth!
Sample geocaches and log sheets.  The pen is pointing
 to a tiny geocache.


Okay, you’ve got your geocaches picked out and you’re off to find one.  You park your car near the cache and head for the cache.  Once you reach the GZ (Ground Zero) you begin your search.  Sometimes, the cache is obvious and sometimes it’s cleverly camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings.  After a search you find the cache and open it.  Inside you’ll find a log sheet to write down your geocaching name to prove that you made the find.  You might also find SWAG, inexpensive items to take and trade.  You now return the cache to its hiding spot for the next geocacher to find.  Your final action is to log your find on geocaching.com or on your smartphone.  This helps you keep track of all your finds.  You’re now a geocacher!

There are over 6 million people geocaching all over the world, some of who have found thousands of geocaches.  In fact, a Central Illinois geocacher (racer2814) is one of the world’s top geocachers having found over 51,000 caches.  There is also a local geocaching organization that meets and conducts geocaching events.  This organization is CIGA, Central Illinois Geocaching Association.  You can find more information about CIGA by searching for their site on Facebook or by going to http://www.cigacache.org/.
We started geocaching in 2010 and now cache with all of our grandkids who range in age from four to sixteen.  We also geocache with our 76 year old uncle who often geocaches without using a GPSr.  He simply checks out the location online and then just goes out to find the cache the hard way.  Geocaching is definitely fun for all ages!
A grandson's joy in finding a geocache!


Geocaching is also a hobby that you can take with you on vacation.  As I said, there are over 2.3 million caches throughout the world and there always seems to be one nearby, wherever you are.  We’ve even found caches in 48 states, in 13 other countries and even in the Vatican City.  This is a hobby that goes wherever you go!

So, the next time you hear your kids say, “There’s nothing to do in Decatur.” Prove them wrong by taking them out to find some of Decatur’s hidden treasures! Take them geocaching!

Marvin Sowers
(The author’s geocaching name is MNM1011.)