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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

ALASKA MARITIME: GPS Lab & Geocaching at the End of the Road

Region 7, April 26, 2013
Pathways Park Ranger Joel Vos leads a Geocaching 101 session
Pathways Park Ranger Joel Vos leads a Geocaching 101 session - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteer Dan Perry leads one of the 8 indoor tables in the lab. Participants went from these learning stations to an outdoor activity.
Volunteer Dan Perry leads one of the 8 indoor tables in the lab. Participants went from these learning stations to an outdoor activity. - Photo Credit: n/a

Refuges across the nation using Global Positioning System (GPS)-based activity of “Geocaching” to connect the public with their mission and work. GPS technology is not only a tool used in research within our Refuge Systems, but it also provides excellent outreach opportunities that reach a techno-savvy visitors to our Refuges. Using carefully designed GPS programs as an outreach tool, visitors can navigate and discover hidden treasures—both natural and man-made!


Physical geocache containers are not allowed on Refuge land becauseburying or placing a geocache on Refuge land can damage sensitive natural or historic resources, and geocaching websites recognize these regulations. However, with some partnership and careful planning, geocaching has been brought to many Refuges with great success.
Several refuges, including Sacramento and Humboldt Bay Refuges, CA, Desert National Wildlife Refuge, NV, and Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, FL, have created geocaching scavenger hunts where geocachers follow clues to particular locations on the refuge where they learn something new, complete a task or answer questions. Once they complete the hunt, they can return to the administrative site for that Refuge and find the logbook and geocache. Alaska’s own USFWS Region 7 Office worked with Anchorage geocachers to create the Blue Goose GeoTour, a virtual tour of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges created by placements at Anchorage city parks.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge joined the ranks of GPS outreach users by creating a Letterbox-hybrid scavenger hunt within their Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center in Homer, Alaska. In addition, they maintain a container-less “Earthcache” that asks visitors to answer geology-related questions about the site the coordinates bring them to. By maintaining the EarthCache and Geocache at the visitor center, visitors can experience the research and history of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge without placing a cache in the field on Refuge land. On Saturday, March 2, 2013 Park Ranger Joel Vos from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge coordinated a public GPS and Navigation lab, and a Geocaching 101 presentation. Visitors had the opportunity to learn about how Global Positioning Systems work, the history of navigation, how to use a GPS, games that can be played using navigation as a focus, and more.

Joel coordinated with partners including Homer’s Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lake Clark National Park, Kachemak Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Region 7 headquarters, and GeocacheAlaska!, put on a well-received outreach program, reaching over 100 visitors.
Activities included hands-on lessons like demonstrating how GPS uses trilateration to find you on a map, orienteering courses inside and outside of the visitor center, creating your own compass, and GPS activities. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary was on hand to talk about marine navigation and GPS use, and Steve Delehanty, Refuge Manager for Alaska Maritime presented ongoing research that uses GPS technology. Many attendees joined in the fun and completed a Geocache Passport, designed to guide visitors to 4 temporary “day caches” hidden around the grounds. Others discovered how accurate their GPS could be with another outdoor game.

Alaska Maritime also released 4 “Travel Bugs” from the event. These Travel Bugs have unique tracking numbers, and can be followed across the globe while attempting to visit as many of our Nation’s Refuges as possible. Already in the few short weeks since they were launched, the Bugs have been moved to Anchorage, and as far away as Oregon. Not only can these trackable items show where they’ve been, but they also engage the players of geocaching by having them seek out the Refuges in their area.
Visitors came from as far away as Anchorage for the events, and 2 troops of Girl Scouts attended as part of earning their Geocaching badge. With plans in the works for more outreach including a GPS lending library, classes and labs about navigation and GPS, and events to reach out to Geocachers around the globe, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge looks forward to showing off their natural resources by using GPS technology and outdoor activities in the future.

Contact Info: Marianne Aplin, 907-226-4619 , marianne_aplin@fws.gov