Geocaching is rapidly becoming one of the most popular family-oriented activities around the world.
Since its origin in 2000, more than 2 million geocaches have been hidden. The term “geocache” was coined by Matt Stum in May 2000, the prefix “geo” for earth and “cache” a French term for hiding place.
Rich Courtemanche, Aitkin County Land Department assistant, became excited about geocaching in 2008 during a camping trip in southern Minnesota when a friend demonstrated the accuracy of his GPS.
“The coordinates took us to a cemetery, a historical site. It was so interesting my family decided to give geocaching a try,” said Courtemanche.
During the next three months, the Courtemanche family toured 72 Minnesota state parks to search for the treasures. Inside each cache was a historical card. When you completed a district, you earned a special coin.
The Courtemanche family’s interest in the treasure hunts continued. In 2009, they decided to visit all 72 state parks again. This second round focused on habitat and animals native to the areas. The caches contained collectible wild life cards with information on a mammal, insect, fish, reptile or amphibian. This time, it took them two years to complete the hunt.
“We had gone camping a lot prior to the geocaching experiences,” added Courtemanche, “we enjoyed camping in the state parks, but geocaching drew us into them, exploring them deeper.”
Now they were hooked, and Courtemanche realized that geocaching could be a tourism incentive for Aitkin County. Twenty caches were hidden within the county in 2012; the number increased to 24 this year. Thirteen groups have found all 24 geocache treasures so far in 2013. In addition to the 24 geocaches hidden by the county, there are more than 100 additional caches hidden on county land and 200 within 20 miles of Aitkin.
“Aitkin County Land Department’s geocaching challenge is geared for families,” continued Courtemanche. “All treasures require no more than one-fourth mile of walking and are handicap accessible.”
At a bare minimum, Courtemanche recommends a GPS, water and good walking shoes. Binoculars and a camera and insect repellent are a plus.
“We want people to travel to the remote areas and lakes of Aitkin County that they would otherwise never visit,” said Courtemanche.
Anybody can do it. If you have a smartphone with GPS, that works fine. Geocaching .com offers a $10 application that gives clues or hints on where to go if you get stumped. The exciting part, according to Courtemanche, is that the coordinates are a point on the planet and you have to figure out how to get there.
Locally, the most discovered geocaches are in the Aitkin campground, but you can find them in the city park and the Aitkin Methodist Church for an easy start. Aitkin County geocache treasures are inside a large ammo box which contains wooden nickels provided by the county. Participants are encouraged to take a nickel but may wish to bring a trinket to trade for other trinkets inside the cache.
The Courtemanche family purchased travel bugs named “Team Cootie” which can be traced when moved from one geocache to another. One of the Team Cootie bugs has been tracked to Belgium.
Ironically, when geocaching was first introduced to state parks in 2006, administrators were very against the idea, fearing littering and vandalism — now, it draws thousands of welcome guests to state parks.