Can you find it?

By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

For Mandi Strapp, geocaching is all about the thrill of the hunt.

The outdoor treasure hunting game is a hit not only here in central Ohio, but around the world.
“There’s just something about finding a hidden treasure somewhere,” Strapp said.

Since starting the activity in 2011, the Hilliard resident has participated in more than 2,500 hunts – including ones in Grove City, Groveport, Canal Winchester, Reynoldsburg and throughout Madison County.

She also avidly participates in Metro Parks’ geocaching activities, including the park system’s Geo Trail.

“People navigate to a set of coordinates and then try to find a hidden container or geocache,” explains Jen Rosa, a naturalist at Battelle Darby Creek and Prairie Oaks Metro Parks. “All you need is a GPS unit and you can purchase an app and use your phone.”

Participants then visit geocaching.com and make a free account. On that site, participants can search anywhere in the world and find coordinates for caches people have hidden.

“For example, just in Ohio, there are 25,113 geocaches waiting to be found,” Rosa said. “You then download the coordinates to your GPS unit or phone and you are ready to follow those coordinates to find the hidden cache.”

After finding the cache, sign the log book, go back to geocaching.com and note the find. Participants can also post comments and pictures.

“For every cache you find, you earn a smiley,” Rosa said. “It’s free, family-friendly and a great way to explore just about anywhere.”

Strapp says her travels through the region have led her to explore new places.

“I’ve lived in central Ohio my whole life, and every time I do one, I see something I’ve never seen before in Columbus,” she said.

Becoming a part of the geocaching culture also presents opportunities for social meet-ups with other geocachers, as well as an opportunity to give back.

“We participate in a ‘trash-in, trash-out’ program where when we practice geocaching, if we see a piece of trash, we take it out with us,” Strapp said.

While summer is a popular time to spot treasure hunters, Rosa says geocaching can be done year-round.

“In fact, I know some people who prefer to do it in the colder months because there is no poison ivy or bugs,” she said.

Caches come in all shapes and sizes, so be prepared for surprises, she said.

“The average is about the size of a medium Tupperware container and each cache will contain a log book and swag,” Rosa said. “Swag is another word for trinkets that people leave.”

The No. 1 rule, though, is if you take something, then you leave something.

“Some caches called microcaches are very small and only contain a log sheet,” she said. “Some caches can be disguised to look like other things, like old chewing gum or a fake rock. You never know what the cache is going to be until you find it.”

Caches have been hidden in some parks since 2005, and Metro Parks began offering geocaching programs about five years ago.

“We have a set of 15 GPS units, so this allows us to program the coordinates into the units and give people the experience even if they don’t have their own GPS unit,” Rosa said. “This allows us to offer geocaching programs to the public.”

Every park except Sharon Woods, Slate Run and Walnut Woods has active caches that participants can find year-round, she said.

There’s still time to participate in this year’s Geo Trail program. To play, go to geocaching.com and search “Columbus Metro Parks” to find the list of caches.

“After you find a cache, sign the log and return to geocaching.com to log your find online and post comments,” Rosa said. “In each cache container, there is a code word that you must remember to get.”

Once participants have found all 15 caches, to go metroparks.net to fill out the Geo Trail Code Word Page. Return the page to any nature center in the park system by Aug. 31 to be entered into winning a limited edition Metro Parks GeoCoin.

“We will also be having a Geocaching Celebration on Sept. 6 at Highbanks Metro Park to award people coins,” Rosa said.

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