Global Positioning System (GPS) technology offers exciting recreational opportunities to reach new and techsavvy audiencesand the Refuge System has guidance about organizing and monitoring these hightech activities.
In traditional geocaching, the most widely practiced GPS recreational activity, a geocacher places objects, coins or a logbook at a certain location, pinpointed with GPS coordinates that are posted on a Web site such as geocaching.com. Other geocachers are challenged to find the treasure and leave new items to be discovered.
Burying, placing or removing a physical cache on a national wildlife refuge is illegal, largely because sensitive natural or historic resources could be damaged. Refuge managers must follow established regulations to determine if a proposed geocaching activity is appropriate and compatible. GPS use is acceptable within refuge wilderness areas, for example, but competitive public eventssuch as a large geocaching eventare prohibited. Ideally, geocaching proposals should be considered as part of the comprehensive conservation planning (CCP) process.
Geocaching.com is very supportive of refuge limitations. Caches are offlimits if they are buried, deface property or are located in areas sensitive to extra traffic, such as archaeological and historic sites. If alerted that an unapproved physical cache has been left on a refuge, geocaching.com may disable the activity and alert users.
Many refuges are already designing carefully adapted geocaching programs, sometimes following the philosophy established by the Geological Society of America at geocaching.com: Earth itself offers its own treasures to uncover and endless opportunities for exploration, discovery and learning.
Take Me to a Refuge
Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (IL, WI, MN, IA) and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA, were among the first to bring geocaching to refuges about four years ago by distributing stuffed birds and blue gooseshaped coins equipped with small metal tags that can be tracked at geocaching.com. New and veteran geocachers took the birds or coins to other refuges and left them in a specially designated box or canister near the refuge for the next geocacher to find.
One stuffed mallard named Mel has traveled more than 20,000 miles, including a stop in Istanbul, Turkey. An Oregon family took Remy, a stuffed redwinged blackbird, to five refuges. He was recognized online by a fatherson team in Wisconsin and taken to Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where a honeymooning couple recently picked it up.
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 scavenger hunts using handheld GPS units that are lent to visitors. Geocachers follow clues to particular locations on the refuge where they learn something new, complete a task or answer questions.
Ridgefield Refuge, WA, and its Friends group use biological and archaeological GeoAdventures with middle school field students and Scout troops. GPS coordinates lead hikers to a hawthorne tree with woodpecker evidence, a giant oak tree, the swans in Boot Lake, a basalt quarry and the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, which was constructed to resemble the houses described by Lewis and Clark when they visited the area more than 200 years ago.
The goal, says a Pacific Region guide to geocaching, is to reach across the demographic of traditional and untapped refuge visitors through the growing familyfriendly recreational activity known as geocaching.
Karen Leggett is a writereditor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.