Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 16, 2008

Geocaching used as a learning tool

Hobby gets kids into the woods and into maps

TRAVERSE CITY -- Sergei Kelley told his parents his fourth-grade class was learning about latitude and longitude, and his mom knew just how to help get the kids excited about the geography concepts.

She'd introduce them to the outdoor treasure-hunting game of geocaching.

"There's really no tangible ways of teaching longitude and latitude," said Paula Kelley, who with her husband Dave recently shared with the Old Mission Elementary School class their family's interest in the Global Positioning System (GPS) activity. "We hid caches in the woods around the school, and the kids really seemed to like it. It's going to be something we do every year for the fourth-graders."

Throughout northern Michigan, the country and the world, geocaching continues to gain momentum. Adventure-seekers of all ages are eager to locate and hide what are typically small, waterproof containers that hold a logbook and treasure of some kind -- typically toys or trinkets. There are more than 685,000 active geocaches worldwide, according to www.geocaching.com, which bills itself "the official global GPS cache hunt site."

Local enthusiasts estimate more than 1,000 registered caches in the Traverse City area.

The sport of geocaching began in 2000, when Oregon computer consultant Dave Ulmer used his portable GPS navigational receiver to hide a bucket of prizes in the woods and left Internet clues to allow other GPS users to find them.

The game works through players setting up and concealing a cache, recording the GPS coordinates and posting them on www.geocaching.com. Others use the coordinates to find the cache, which sometimes contains rewards -- perhaps a trinket or postcard. If you take something out of a cache, you're expected to leave something else in its place. Successful players then sign the log book, conceal the cache again and contact the Web site to tell the story of how they found it.

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