Game allows for unique way to tour region
LIVINGSTON – Houdini’s Great Escape, Gnome Sweet Home, Epic Mystery – if you haven’t been geocaching in the Upper Cumberland, you might be unfamiliar with some of the region’s most popular finds. In fact, you’ve probably passed them by without ever knowing.
Geocaching, which likens itself to an outdoor treasure hunt that requires the use of a GPS-enabled device, continues to take the world – and area – by storm since it started in 2010. There are more than 6 million geocachers globally; there’s an active presence in the Upper Cumberland region as well.
Gregory Burgess, associate professor at Volunteer State Community College at Livingston, for example, helped start the geocaching club there, and in 2012, the group won the school’s “New Organization of the Year” award. He said there are other active clubs throughout the region, including the Middle Tennessee Geocachers Club, which lays claim as the oldest in the state. Pull up a map on geocaching.com, the game’s official website, and there’s a host of caches, or hidden containers, to find. For example, in a 10-mile radius of Cookeville, there’s nearly 100. Expand that to 50 miles, and more than 1,665 caches are waiting to be found.
“McMinnville and Cartage are probably some of the most active communities in this area,” Burgess said. “I, myself, have found almost 1,100. I’ve found some in the Netherlands, Chattanooga, Myrtle Beach…anytime I go somewhere or if I’m at a conference, I’ll just look around in my spare time.”
The rules are fairly straight forward: enter the coordinates of a geocache into a GPS device, find the said cache – sometimes a difficult venture – sign its logbook, and track your finds, stories and photos online. Caches range in difficulty; some require multiple stops. They’re as varied as the people who place them.
So what’s to be found? Well, that varies, too. Caches can range in size – from a nano, a little larger than a pencil eraser; macro, which is about the size of a pill bottle; to regular, Army ammo cans seem popular; and large, like a bigger tote. Some are “unknown” or mystery/puzzle caches, which require some pre-trip problem solving. Some caches also contain trinkets – pins, coins, keychains, matchcars. If you take such a treasure, you’re expected to leave another behind of greater or equal value. All in fun, for sure. But it’s also a great way to uncover hidden gems in the region. MustSeeCookeville.com, a visitor website, links directly to the main geocaching.com site. Caches are expected to be set up along Walton Road Scenic Byway, which traverses Smith, Putnam, Cumberland and Roane counties. Burgess could even count himself as an unexpected tourist of sorts. Geocaching has taken him to many local outdoor hot spots. Virgin Falls, for example, which requires about a nine-mile roundtrip hike.
“That’s what I like about it so much. And that’s what makes a geocache better, too,” he said. “You don’t hide a geocache just to hide a geocache. It really needs to have a purpose.”