‘Treasure hunts’ are fun for young and old

OKEECHOBEE — Looking for a way to get the kids to get some exercise outdoors? Treasure hunt games continue to grow in popularity. Three currently popular games include Okeechobee Rocks, Letterboxing and Geocaching (also known as Geoseeking).

Okeechobee Rocks

The latest craze in the Lake Okeechobee area is “Okeechobee Rocks.”
Participants paint rocks with pictures, patterns or words and hide them for others to find. Clues are shared on the Okeechobee Rocks Facebook page.

Corey Townsend, age 7.

Mary Dingus-Hayes, the founder of the Okeechobee Rocks Facebook group, explains: “This group was created to bring happiness and inspiration to Okeechobee County.”

Her sister lives in Martin County, where there is a very active rock painting and hunting group, and when Mrs. Dingus-Hayes learned of that group, she was determined to bring this same fun and excitement to the Big Lake area.

On New Year’s Day, Mrs. Dingus-Hayes started her group with just a few friends and family. They bought rocks at Home Depot, painted them, and hid them around town. The group quickly grew and now has nearly 3,000 members, with more joining every day.

There are no official rules in the rock hunting game, but there is an unofficial etiquette that is encouraged:

• Never hide a rock in or near a place that sells painted rocks.

Paisley Schoonmaker found a rock painted by Kim Courson.

• Once you have finished painting your rock, always seal it before hiding it in order to protect your art from the elements and to protect the clothing of the people who find the rock.

• If you find a painted rock, you can either keep it or re-hide it for someone else to find. If you decide to keep a rock, you are encouraged to hide one of your own painted rocks in its place.

• Participants are encouraged to take photos of the rocks they find and post them on the Okeechobee Rocks Facebook page.

• Artwork that is PG rated is appreciated as kids love to look for and find the hidden rocks. On the back of the rock you are encouraged to reference the Facebook group Okeechobee Rocks

• Please be careful where you hide your rocks so that they don’t cause any damage to property (for example, do not hide in the grass where it can damage a lawn mower or hurt someone).

• Don’t steal rocks from private property or from someone’s landscaping.

• Don’t trespass.

Ayla Rucks, age 10, found a great hiding place.

• When you paint a rock and place it for others to find, consider it a gift and let go. You may never see it again.

Letter boxing

For those who like to use their brains instead of a computer, Letterboxing in Florida State Parks can be a fun challenge.

Letterboxing combines navigational skills and rubber stamp artistry in a treasure-hunt style game. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible places and post clues on one of several websites to help others find them.

How to find a letterbox:

• Find clues for letterboxes at www.letterboxing.org. Navigate to the geographic area where you would like to explore.

• Look through possible clues until you locate one or more that interest you.

• Gather your supplies: rubber stamp, pencil or pen, small sketch book, one or more ink pads or brush markers, a simple compass and clues.

• Print the clues or go paperless if you can.

• Search for the letterbox. When you find it, the box will contain a log book and a rubber stamp. There might be an ink pad. Imprint the letterbox’s stamp in your log book and leave an imprint of your personal stamp in the letterbox’s logbook.

• Share your experience on the website where you found the clue.

How to hide a letterbox:

One of the challenges of this sport is hiding a letterbox in your favorite locations and encouraging other letterboxers to find it.

• Find a place to hide your letterbox. Select a spot with a great view or an unusual location. Avoid archaeological or historical sites. Those areas are sensitive.

• If you are planning to hide a letterbox in a Florida State Park, contact the park manager and ask permission for the location you are considering.

Describe the location, how you intend to hide it (digging is not allowed) and provide a description of the container. The park manager will consider the site attributes and give verbal permission for you to hide the letterbox in the location. Archaeological, ecological and historical areas are typically off limits.

Also consider frequent flooding, fire frequency, animal habitat, etc. before requesting permission.

• Prepare your letterbox. The container should be waterproof. Include a logbook, special stamp and an ink pad (optional). Some people include a note to welcome the finder – it’s helpful if someone finds it accidentally.

• After you have verbal permission from the state park manager, you can place your letterbox. Write the clue that you will post on the website to help others find it.

• Register your letterbox on www.letterboxing.org or www.AtlasQuest.com.

• Maintain the letterbox. You’ll need to check on it regularly to ensure it remains as your intended.

Vocabulary:

• Bonus box – A letterbox with a clue that is not published, but rather hidden inside another letterbox. These are sometimes called tagalongs.

• Cuckoo clue – A clue to a letterbox that travels from letterbox to letterbox, usually within a small area near the original location of the letterbox.

• Exchange – Letterboxers swapping images of their signature stamps after meeting on the trail or at an event (gathering).

• Hitchhiker – A letterbox without a home. A hitchhiker is hidden with another letterbox, and the person that finds it is expected to take the hitchhiker to another letterbox.

• Microbox – An extremely small letterbox, such as a film canister, usually hidden in urban locations where larger boxes are too difficult to hide well.

• Mystery Letterbox – A letterbox that does not provide a specific geographic location in its clues. The seeker must first conduct research or solve a puzzle to determine the location of the letterbox.

• Signature Stamp – The stamp letterboxers use to identify themselves, both in the logbooks of letterboxes they’ve found and for exchanges. Also called personal stamps.

Useful Websites include:
Letterboxing – www.letterboxing.org
Atlas Quest – www.atlasquest.com
Letterboxing Info – www.letterboxing.info
Geocaching/Geoseeking

Florida State Parks are popular sites for geocaching.

Geocaching is an outdoor game using hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) devices. It’s really an inexpensive, interactive high-tech treasure hunt that’s a great way to learn geography. Participants use location coordinates to find caches. Some caches are easy to find; others are more difficult. The biggest reward is the thrill of the search and the discovery of a place where you have never been. Geocaching should have minimal impact to the environment and conscientious land use ethics should be followed.

How to find a cache:

Finding a cache is a fun challenge with the correct equipment. Sign up for free at www.geocaching.com. Enter the zip code for the state park where you are interested in searching. Press Go. The website will help you find the caches and will provide clues needed for the search.

Select one or more caches to find. Go paperless if your GPS unit allows you to send the coordinates directly to your unit. Head to the state park. An entry-fee is usually required for entrance to a state park. Enter the coordinates of the cache in your GPS unit and use the clues provided to search for the cache.

Each cache usually contains a logbook, pencil and inexpensive trinkets. When you find it, be sure to sign the logbook. If you remove something from the cache, replace it with something of equal value.

Put the cache back exactly where you found it. Share your experience with the geocaching community on www.geocaching.com.

How to hide a cache:

• After you become good at finding caches, you may want to hide one in your favorite spot to see if others can find it. Geocachers are obligated to practice the sport in an honorable and non-destructive manner.

• Find a place to hide your cache that will take a bit of time for another geocacher to find. Select a spot with a great view or an unusual location. Avoid archaeological or historical sites. Those areas are sensitive.

• If you are planning to hide a cache in a Florida State Park, contact the park manager and ask permission for the location you are considering. Describe the location, how you intend to hide it (digging is not allowed) and provide a description of the cache container. The park manager will consider the site attributes and give verbal permission for you to hide the cache in the location. Archaeological, ecological and historical areas are typically off limits. Also consider frequent flooding, fire frequency, animal habitat, etc. before requesting permission.

• Prepare your cache. The container should be waterproof. Put the items in water-tight baggies in case of a leak. Include a small logbook and a pen or pencil. Some people include a note to welcome the cache finder – it’s helpful if someone finds it accidentally while others include goodies such as a disposable camera, inexpensive toy, coins or a deck of cards. Mark the outside of the cache so that someone who doesn’t play can figure out what it is. Most people mark the container with geocaching.com, the name of the cache and basic contact information.

• After you have verbal permission from the state park manager, you can place your cache. When you reach the location to place your cache, note the exact coordinates from your GPS unit. Once you have your waypoint, write it in permanent marker on the container and the log book and make sure you have a copy to bring back with you. Write a few notes in the log book if you like, place it in a water-tight baggie and place it in the container. Hide the container. Trail blazing is not allowed.

• Report the cache by filling out the online form at www.geocaching.com.

• Maintain the cache. You’ll need to return often to ensure that your cache is in good shape. Once people have visited the cache, be sure that other visitors are not disrupting the landscape. If you have concerns, move it or remove it.

Vocabulary:

• Cache – A waterproof container that has been hidden by a fellow geocacher, who has posted the GPS coordinates on a website, such as geocaching.com. Some caches are easy to find. They are simply camouflaged. Others may be highly disguised and hard to notice. Virtual caches are simply an unmistakable landmark or park feature.

• Coordinates – A set of numbers that describe your exact location on the earth’s surface. Latitude/longitude (lat/long) coordinates are the most typical lines of reference.

• Earthcache – These virtual caches provide Earth science lessons for middle school students. A cache is not hidden, the coordinates of an earthcache mark the location of a significant formation or landscape.

• EcoCache – A ‘green’ variation of a cache. Placed by geocachers at environmentally significant locations, an EcoCache site helps raise awareness of the role humans play in restoring, preserving and sharing the environment.

• Geocaching – An outdoor game of hide-and-seek using a hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. Geocachers use location coordinates and a variety of clues to find caches. The visitor may be expected to leave or replace items in the cache or deliver items to another cache. The cache may be a small waterproof box or simply an unmistakable landmark.

• Global Positioning System (GPS) unit – device that reads satellite signals and then, through the use of mathematics, calculates your position on Earth as a latitude (how far north or south of the equator), longitude (how far east or west of Greenwich, UK) and altitude (how far above sea level).

• Travel Bug – item found in a cache that is meant to travel from one cache to another. These are sometimes called ‘hitch-hikers.’ You can track the location of a Travel Bug at www.geocaching.com

• Waypoint – A (usually two-dimensional) coordinate representing a position on Earth.

Useful websites:

• Find general information for state parks on each state park’s activities page or locate possible geocaches at the following websites:
Geocaching – www.geocaching.com
Earthcache – www.earthcache.org
Navicache – www.navicache.com
Waymarking – www.waymarking.com

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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