Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Geocachers take over the Lakeland

Chris Gilson, also known as Gillie434, shows an example of a travel bug.
Eric Bowling
They walk among us, scouring trails and public buildings, looking for clues to lead them to their next discovery.

They are geocachers.

Over 615 people from as far away as Switzerland descended upon the region for Sails, Rails and Tails - the Lakeland’s first ever “mega event.” A mega event is a gathering of at least 500 like-minded enthusiasts who belong to the totally open society. Prizes were given out for high scores of found caches, as well as an extensive list of other assorted merits ranging from holding foreign currency at the time to being the oldest person in the room.

Special events were held throughout the MD of Bonnyville to welcome the geocachers – a ranch-oriented treasure hunt was held throughout the Town of Bonnyville, cumulating in an opportunity to get a photo taken with a cowboy or girl. The Village of Glendon also hosted a geocaching celebration, where geocachers were set off on a scavenger hunt to assemble the ingredients to create and bake their own pyrogies. Special events were also held in Elk Point and St. Paul.

Geocaching is a growing hobby among travellers, hikers and explorers that make use of GPS tracking systems to find hidden caches.

“People hide caches all over,” explained Vicky Lefebvre, who chaired the organization committee for the mega event and has been geocaching with her husband Gilles for over a decade. “It’s phenomenal, and totally free. Say you’re at a convention; if you’re in a hotel download the app, find the closest geocache, and it will take you to a unique place.”

Lefebvre added that since geocaching was started in 2000 with the advent of GPS, there are now over 2.8 million geocaches worldwide, with over 1,400 along the Iron Horse Trail alone. While originally GPS trackers were used, now there are apps available to access the GPS network with a smartphone.
A geocache can be just about anything – they range in size and scope from small matchboxes to repurposed washing machines and newspaper boxes. Typically most geocaches are only discovered once the GPS sensor goes off.

“It can be a twig, it can be doorknob, it can be a thermometer, it can be a book, it can look like a piece of gum, and it can be a stick with something inside it. There’s no limit to your imagination,” pointed out Lefebvre. “There was one I went to in Red Deer was a welded part on the fence. We didn’t realize it would come out, like a drawer.”

Once a geocache has been found, the geocacher checks it off in their logbook. While the treasure found in a geocache - called a travel bug - can be claimed, the code of geocaching requires its followers to leave something else in the cache for the next adventurer. Moving travel bugs is encouraged – the owner of the travel bug is able to track it as it journeys around the world.
Chris Gilson, a local geocacher who maintains over 700 caches in the Lakeland area, had the interesting experience of finding his own travel bug – a rubber ducky he had left in a geocache in Canada turned up in a geocache he had found in Denmark several years later.

Geocachers are also dedicated to keeping the places they explore clean. Part of the code requires geocachers to pick up any litter they might find in their search for hidden treasure. On Sunday, the geocachers showed their appreciation for the Lakeland’s generosity and set about cleaning up Imperial Park.

“The motto is cache in, trash out,” explained Lefebvre. “If I go in to find a cache, and there is trash lying around, I’m supposed to bring it out.”

While most geocachers agree that it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps them going, many also pointed out that it was a fun, family friendly activity for road trips and vacations.

“They’re something fun for the kids to find,” noted Gilson.

This was the Lakeland’s first mega event and the sixth ever held in western Canada. Lefebvre explained that the idea to host one had originally come about in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014 when the ball got rolling. While geocachers are heavily involved in creating new geocaches and expanding the hobby for each other, the majority of the work setting up the mega event was done by volunteers eager to showcase the Lakeland region. Guests dined on white fish caught from Cold Lake, which had to be ordered from the fisherman an entire year in advance.

“We had 618 people through our doors today, and what that means for our community is money,” said Lefebvre. “They have to eat something, they have to sleep somewhere, they have to fill up with gas, and they’re experiencing our area. Hopefully they’re going back and telling their friends and their relatives how wonderful the Lakeland is. We have all kinds of things for people to do, fishing, sailing, hiking…and geocaching.”

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