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Jill Decker helps Brady work the GPS unit.

Geocaching: high-tech treasure hunts

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Tromping down a dirt and pine needle path, Brady Decker, 7, consults a gadget on his search for a hidden treasure with his sister, Paige Decker, 4, dad, Rich Decker, and stepmom, Jill Decker, in tow.

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In an activity known as geocaching, containers called caches are hidden and the coordinates are entered online so that people can use their Global Positioning System devices to find the cache. This activity gives many people enjoyment, and some would call it a sport, Jill said. The Decker family has been geocaching for about two years, and they all enjoy it.

"It gets [the kids] out in nature and helps us to go on longer hikes," Jill said.

Caches are hidden, and the people who hide them must enter the coordinates on an official geocaching Web site so that others can use the coordinates and a GPS to find the cache. The GPS brings people within about 10 feet of the cache.

When people get close to the cache, they must search the surrounding area. Some are hidden out in the open, but others are concealed.

"We've been within five feet of them before and looked for 20 minutes to find them," Rich said.

As a form of treasure hunting, geocaching offers people a unique way to search for treasure.

"It's treasure hunting with a GPS," Rich said.

The caches mostly contain small trinkets, travel bugs, a log book and other items. Sometimes there is also money. The sizes of the caches vary, some being little film canisters and others being large buckets.

"And the big ones have toys in them!" Paige exclaimed.

The caches can be hidden anywhere from under bridges, up in trees and in many other places. The Deckers have even discovered a cache that had been hidden inside of a hollowed out log with hinges to conceal the cache, Rich said. There are some places, such as private property, where people cannot hide them.

"Not on the streets," Brady said.

His sister reinforced the message.

"Not on the streets, ever," Paige added.

Once a cache has been found, the person who discovered it takes one of the little trinkets and replaces it with a different object.

"If there are two kids, take two and leave two," Brady said.

On occasion, an item called a travel bug will appear in a cache. When one is found, it is removed and entered on the geocaching Web site. Then, seekers take the travel bug and hide it in the next cache that they find. By doing this, people can see where the bugs have been as they "travel" from cache to cache.

"They log it online so they can watch it go around, like, maybe the world," Brady said.

After finding a cache, people must put it back in the original spot so that others with the coordinates can find it next, Jill said. If people want to hide their own cache, they have to create one and then enter the information online.

Geocaching allows people the opportunity to get outside and explore their community.

"Mostly, it's just a great way to get out and be enjoying the area, finding new little parks and different places that are tucked all over the place that you'd never know were there," Jill said.

The state parks are involved with this activity, and, depending on the policy, people must get permission before hiding a cache in a state park.

Sometimes, people not looking for caches, known as muggles, show up on the site, and the searchers must attempt to hide their objective.

"Well, when you're a treasure hunter, it's important to be secret," Rich said.

The Deckers have found more than 40 caches, but some people are really dedicated and have found thousands, Jill said. There are many caches in the United States, but there are more than 100,000 caches hidden worldwide.

"It's actually a lot more popular than what you would ever imagine," Jill said.

For more details, visit www.geocaching.com.

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