Hidden Treasure Near Home: Westfield Family Spends Quality Time Together Through Geocaching

November 9, 2012 at 1:41 PM

WESTFIELD, NJ--In 2005, Dina Orr read in a magazine that people could go hiking with their GPS, taking them to a specific location where they could find hidden containers full of items.

Since Mrs. Orr and her family used to hike frequently, she thought that it would be a good idea to have a particular spot to go to when hiking.

That Christmas, she gave her husband a GPS and in 2006, Mr. and Mrs. Orr and their two children became involved with geocaching.

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“For us it was like hiking with a purpose,” said Mrs. Orr, a teacher at Westfield High School. “It was also something inexpensive to do with the family. I think when you have kids, you end up spending a lot of money just to spend some family time together, but we could just do this instead and pack a picnic.”

According to www.geocaching.com, geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

Geocaching.com tells a geocacher (participant) where geocaches (or simply caches) are hidden in the area.

“The geocaching website is worldwide. There are groups of areas that people can join,” said Edward Orr, owner of Pegasus Contracting in Westfield and Mrs. Orr’s husband. “It’s all free unless you want to upgrade your membership. You can upgrade for $30 a year.”

In most cases, after geocachers find caches, they login onto the website with their username and write about their adventure or experience with finding the caches without giving too much information away.  

“When you’re looking for a cache, you look at other people’s logs and if you have trouble finding it, you look at what other people wrote and sometimes, they might give you hints to where it’s hidden,” Mr. Orr said. “Some of them are not hidden easy.”

Geocachers don’t have to have an actual GPS device to track caches. There are cell phone applications that allow a geocacher to download the coordinates from www.geocaching.com.  

“Sometimes, there are puzzles that you have to solve online in order to get the coordinates,” Mrs. Orr said. “That gets interesting and very hard.”

The items found in caches vary from cache to cache. Usually, caches include items such as McDonalds or Burger King toys, silly bands or anything that attracts children. Caches also include a logbook that geocachers sign after finding the cache.

Anyone can hunt for caches or even hide them, but like every game, there are rules to follow. Geocachers can take from the cache any item that appeals to them, but then they have to replace it with another item of the same value.

“You don’t want to take something decent out and put something crummy back,” Mr. Orr said. “The idea is to try doing an even exchange.”

Every cache that is hidden has to be waterproof. Caches cannot contain any harmful items, such as lighters, pocket knives or anything that smells like food.

“You can’t put things in caches that would attract animals because then the animal will take the cache away and eat it; that includes crayons and play-doh,” Mr. Orr said.  

In addition, since geocaching consists of working within nature, geocachers cannot dig holes or drill trees to hide caches.

When the Orr family vacations, it enjoys hunting for caches. As of today, the family has collected 2,474 caches. Most of them are from New Jersey; other ones are from Florida, New York, Portugal, Denmark, England and the Netherlands.

Besides hunting for caches, the Orr family also enjoys hiding them. Mr. Orr has also hidden approximately 14 caches.

Geocachers can hide as many caches as they want, but then they become responsible for maintaining those caches.

“You are responsible for the upkeep,” Mrs. Orr said. “If someone vandalizes it, then you have to replace it.”

Before a geocacher can hide a cache, it has to be approved by a volunteer from the geocaching website. The volunteer will make sure that the coordinates are accurate and that there aren’t any other caches in the vicinity that are too close.

“Every state has a volunteer; someone who volunteers their time to go through the caches,” Mr. Orr said. “Geocaches cannot be placed next to each other. They have to be a minimum of a tenth of a mile apart because that way, when you’re searching for one, you don’t stumble upon another one.”

Hurricane Sandy didn’t affect the Orr family’s hidden caches that much, they said. Only one cache, an old hornet’s nest that Mr. Orr had lacquered and hanged on a tree, was blown away. The rest of the caches are still in good shape.

“Unless the tree went down, the caches are still in place,” Mr. Orr said.

However, as far as hunting for caches post Hurricane Sandy, it has been difficult to travel to the areas where the caches are hidden.

“All the county parks are closed, which it’s where a large amount of caches exist,” Mr. Orr said. “You can still go out to find the more urban hides as long as you have enough gas to travel to get them.”

There are events posted on geocaching.com that are created by geocachers. Any geocacher can attend these events and discuss geocaching. These events are usually held in restaurants or other public venues and are a great opportunity to meet other geocachers.

Geocachers have also their own codes. They use terms that non-geocachers cannot understand. Mrs. Orr said that people who don’t know about geocaching are called “muggles.” The name “muggle”—a non-magical person—comes from the Harry Potter series.

According to www.geocaching.com, usually this term is used after a non-geocacher looks puzzled after befriending a geocacher searching for a cache, or when a non-geocacher accidentally finds a cache. 

Geocaching has allowed the Orr family to spend more time outdoors and to become closer.

“What I enjoy the most is hanging out together and getting out of the house on nice days,” Mrs. Orr said. 

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