Treasure Hunting in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — There is a treasure hunt going on in Okeechobee, quietly and, for most, completely unnoticed. There are no real prizes, but there are scores of places to look and plenty of good exercise to be had in searching for the multitude of Geocaches that are waiting to be found in our area.

Geocaching is a relatively new pursuit, a form of “hide and seek,” a kind of treasure hunt that was brought about by the advent of the GPS (Global Positioning System), which is a series of initially government-owned satellites that allowed users to map the face of the Earth with special equipment. Initially, the government added in a “calculated error” to the system called “selected availability,” so bad guys outside the country couldn’t tell where things really were situated. In 2000, however, that “error” was turned off and all GPS systems became much more accurate.

At that time, a fellow by the name of Dave Ulmer in Portland, Ore., put together a bucket of trinkets and buried it in the woods outside of town, and then went on the Usenet (an early internet application) and gave the coordinates to the cache of goodies. Soon there were hundreds and then thousands of these caches hidden around the country and the world.

Initially, to find a cache, you needed a handheld GPS device, and when I got my very first one a lot of years ago, that is when I became aware of the idea of a Geocache and looking for them. But back then the equipment was expensive and the batteries didn’t last all that long. Some of the caches were a good-sized hike from the nearest road, and difficult to find.

Now, everyone who owns a smartphone has a GPS receiver, and the software to allow you to find a cache is only as far away as a download. I loaded the software on the phone, for free, several months ago, and began looking around at it, and was amazed to find there are more than 75 caches hidden in the area around Okeechobee.

Here’s an example of a simple cache in a tree in Okeechobee. Inside is a plastic bag with a paper for the finder to sign to prove he or she found the cache. Photo by Tom Timmons.

There are a variety of caches out there. Some are as simple as a bottle or small jar, hidden with a piece of paper in it, on which you sign your name or handle and replace for the owner to check. Software on your telephone allows you to find the cache, and will give you the distance to the cache and some hints about where to look for it, along with a general description of what you are searching for.

At lunchtime a few days ago, I went over to the storm treatment area north of town on U.S. 441 and opened my software to find that there were THREE caches just in that area. I found the one closest to the parking area after a bit of searching and struck out to find the other two, managing only to get in the area where both of them were hidden. But, I did not find the other two, and ran out of lunchtime to use to continue the hunt. The one I found only asked that I, the lucky finder, sign my name (bring your own pen) and replace it where I found it.

Other caches are more interactive, where there is loot in the cache. It is understood that if you find the cache and log in, you can take a bit of the loot, and you leave a similar amount. Small pins and toys are usually found in these caches, and to allow the exchange they have to be physically a bit larger and sometimes easier to find.

It’s hard to say when the first cache was placed in Okeechobee, but there are plenty of them to be found and walking or biking is a good way to do it. It makes exercise all the more enjoyable when you can search and find a cache that most people do not even know exists. With the cooler weather coming, I’ll be out there looking for a cache to discover and log into my cellphone. Join me!

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