ONAMIA - They disappeared into the forest, sometimes alone, other times in bunches. They walked casually, with no sense of urgency, yet with a purpose.
There was "Team Cootie" - the biggest group, at least as of noon or so May 2, with six members. And "Thelma & Louise 22." And "Wishin4walleyes."
The logbook and one of the caches found May 2 at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The aforementioned geonames/geocachers - there were about 160 geocachers signed up by late morning May 2 - visited Mille Lake Kathio State Park for a Minnesota Geocaching Association event, part of Minnesota state parks' Geocaching Wildlife Safari kickoff celebration.
The Mille Lacs Kathio event epitomized the geocaching phenomena in Minnesota and its state parks - organizers said they had 51 "will attends prior to the event," but soon after check-in at 9:30 a.m. May 2, it was apparent it was to be so much bigger.
This year's Wildlife Safari kickoff came after last year's successful Geocaching History Challenge, a special event in conjunction with Minnesota's sesquicentennial celebration in which some 20,000 geocache finds were recorded.
A found cache hung from a birdfeeder outside a tent at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park's Trail Center, which served as the headquarters May 2 for a Minnesota Geocaching Association event. The cache was stashed inside the birdfeeder. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
In line with this year's theme, each of Minnesota's 72 state parks and recreation areas has its own Critter Cache. On May 2, geographic coordinates indicating the specific location of each cache were posted, and when geocachers entered those coordinates into GPS receivers, they were guided to the caches.
According to Andy McCracken, a volunteer for the MGA and a member of the state parks' geocaching committee, there were 15 temporary caches at Kathio on May 2. Hence the pilgrimage to the forest, where some of those caches were stashed.
Outside a tent at Kathio's Trail Center, which served as the headquarters for the event, geocachers hovered around a birdfeeder like, well, birds around a birdfeeder. The reason? Under the roof, which easily pulled off, and inside the birdfeeder itself was a tiny cache. Inside that was a small logbook - the traditional cache.
That's geocaching - a game of hiding and seeking "treasures." The basic idea is to hide containers (caches) and post the locations of those caches on the Internet (see www.geocaching.com). Anyone with a GPS receiver may enter the coordinates and ultimately find the caches. Geocachers then may go to www.geocaching.com to indicate that they've found the cache.
Geocachers looked for one of 15 temporary caches May 2 near the park office at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Since September 2000, geocaching has grown from 75 caches in several countries to hundreds of thousands of caches all over the world, including more than 10,000 in Minnesota, according to McCracken, better known in geocaching circles by his geoname - "AndrewMcc."
"About 1,800," McCracken said of the number of caches he's uncovered in a little over two years of geocaching. "Oh yeah, it's addictive. You start planning vacations around finding caches. You go to places you've never been before.
"There are 20 caches I've gotten around Brainerd. I'm from Big Lake and there are 4,200 caches within 60 miles of my house that I haven't found and over 10,000 total in the state. And they keep coming."
Even Kris Erickson, assistant park manager at Kathio, has been bitten by the geocaching bug.
A geocacher checked coordinates on her GPS on May 2 during a Minnesota Geocaching Association event, part of Minnesota state parks' Geocaching Wildlife Safari kickoff celebration, at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I think I've found 25, mostly with the kids," said Erickson, also known as "Park ranger 11."
Kathio is a new addition to the list of 25 demo parks in the state, which offer free use of GPS units, geocaching instruction and "Geocaching 101" programs. For more on the state parks' Geocaching Wildlife Safari, go to www.mnstateparks.info.
"It's a lot of guys who are ex-Boy Scouts and a lot of stats guys," McCracken said of geocachers. "We're trying to get the technical kids involved, and it's a little bit of nature. It's a great match.
"I have my coffee and go caching," he added of geocaching events. "And you start putting faces to the geonames. That's cool."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
Area geocaching events
The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association has scheduled a geocaching event this summer.
The free promotion will feature 36 sites along the 54-mile Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway driving route.
Coordinates for Paul & Babe's GeoHunt will be available:
June 26 for the Pine River/Jenkins region.
July 15, Pequot Lakes/Breezy Point region.
Aug. 1, Crosslake/Manhattan Beach region.
Cache locations will be added throughout the summer to different regions of the Byway
To be eligible for prizes, participants must verify that they found the 12 caches in one region and complete an entry form, earning a Paul & Babe's GeoHunt Geocoin - a special wooden nickel that may be traded or kept as a souvenir. The promotion will conclude with a barbeque and social for all participants Aug. 1 at the Crosslake Community Center.
Proceeds from the program will support the PBSBA and the Parks and Library Foundation of Crosslake.
For more information, go to www.PaulBunyanScenicByway.org.
Also, the Crosslake Parks and Recreation Department will offer introductory classes on geocaching and operating a GPS. Classes are scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday and May 27, June 11 and June 18 at the Crosslake Community Center.
Cost is $20 and classes are limited to 15 participants. GPS units will be provided.
Proceeds from the class will be utilized to further outdoor education and enhance the park forestry program.
For more information, call the center at (218) 692-4271.
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