Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
DON EDWARDS SFBAY NWR: Geocaching Invites New, Tech Savvy Audiences to Explore Refuge Treasures
California-Nevada Offices , April 1, 2009
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Geocacher searches for one of the clues to the cache in October 2008. (photo:  Mike Smelser)
Geocacher searches for one of the clues to the cache in October 2008. (photo:  Mike Smelser) - Photo Credit: n/a
Bronwen opens the cache at the visitor center in November 2008. (photo by Nancy Pickett)
Bronwen opens the cache at the visitor center in November 2008. (photo by Nancy Pickett) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Carmen Minch, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR
Geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunting activity, has become enormously popular all over the world.  Since May 2000, when the United States Government permitted public global positioning systems (GPS) to become more precise, more than 700,000 caches have been logged by high-tech treasure hunters worldwide.   Creative techies, wanting to test the accuracy of their GPS units, began to hide stashes, or caches, to see if other like-minded people could find them.  They did.  And so, the hunt was on.  The thrill of finding a cache appeals to just about everyone - kids, adults, couples, and families. 

Geocaching can be a perfect marriage between technology and outdoor recreation.  The growing popularity of the sport has introduced new audiences to public parks and scenic outdoor spaces, including Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Some  aspects of the sport present unique challenges to refuge managers. For example, despite improvements to GPS technology, there is still a margin of error of about 60 feet.  The impreciseness of GPS creates a dilemma for refuges which must protect sensitive habitats for wildlife. Federal regulations also prohibit people searching for buried treasures, treasure troves or taking anything from a national wildlife refuge.

Refuges, including Don Edwards San Francisco Bay, are working through these challenges and are looking to geocaching as an innovative way to introduce new sets of visitors to refuges.  The unique combination of GPS technology and outdoor recreation helps refuges showcase lesser-known areas and expands visitors’ knowledge of the refuge, and the role of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Many geocachers will tell you the items in the cache are not really the reward - it is the hunt itself.  With this in mind, staff at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge has created a challenging, refuge-friendly multi-cache activity that gets people out on the refuge without impacting sensitive habits and other refuge resources. Rather than hiding a cache on a trail, the activity leads the geocacher to 10 locations on the refuge.  Coordinates, information about the site, and 10 questions can be downloaded from the www.geocaching.com , a website used by geocachers to locate and obtain coordinates of caches in their area.  At each of the refuge locations, the person must answer a question correctly.  Once all 10 sites have been visited (some may involve walking on a trail for up to three miles), the geocacher must go to the refuge visitor center to present the answers to the visitor center staff.  After confirming that the 10 questions have been answered, the person then has access to the cache located inside the visitor center where he or she can sign the log book and leave and take something from the cache box.  To make it a bit more interesting, a combination lock has been placed on the cache box.  The combination is derived from some of the answers on the answer sheet.  The last digit is given to the person when he or she comes into the visitor center with answer sheet. 

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay refuge is fortunate to have several enthusiastic geocachers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Once word was out that we were looking to create a geocache on refuge property, several people came forward to offer us help in setting one up.  The website, www.geocaching.com, has a wealth of information and guides you through the process of creating a free account and hosting a cache.  There are definitions for the several types of caches that you can create.  In addition, geocachers can log their finds onto this website, offer others hints and tips about the activity, and post their photos. 

Feedback has been great: here is just one of several quotes from geocachers who found the Don Edwards Refuge Refuge Roundup cache:

“It’s a fabulous cache adventure, laid out to visit the highlights of most of the wildlife refuge, which is beautiful and different in each of its areas. The hikes are easy even if they are long, because they are on wide flat well-maintained trails. Coords for the plaques and signs involved in the necessary questions are good. We learned a lot (well, I learned a lot; Touchstone will have to speak for himself) in the process of reading the signs and doing this cache. We had a lot of fun seeing parts of the baylands we might never have gotten to otherwise.”


More feedback is available online at geocaching.com site.


The geocache code for the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge multi-cache is GC1HQ1W.


Don Edwards San Francisco Bay refuge is interested in working with other refuges to create similar types of caches on refuges.  For more information, contact Carmen Minch at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge at carmen_leong-minch@fws.gov or call 510/792-0222 ext. 38.






Contact Info: Carmen Minch, 510-377-9229, carmen_leong@fws.gov
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