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by Heather Bodendieck, photos by David Stonner
I have a confession to make: I am GPS challenged. Still, when the opportunity came up for me to take my boys on a modern-day treasure hunt, I didn’t let that stop me. I had never heard of geocaching before, so I was surprised to find out just how popular it is. There aren’t many family activities that are diverse enough to accommodate a variety of budgets, activity levels and schedules. Geocaching fits the bill on all levels. All you need to participate is a sense of adventure and a GPS unit. Bug spray and sunscreen aren’t a bad idea, either.
In geocaching, participants hide objects to be found by others with the aid of a GPS unit. The latitude and longitude coordinates of the geocache are posted online, along with any additional clues. By typing the coordinates into a GPS device, geocachers are led to the hidden treasure, or “geocache.” Some geocaches are simple to find, while others involve multiple stages and activities such as rappelling or rock-climbing.
Digital Tips and Treasure Trails
First I looked at the Conservation Department’s geocaching page at mdc.mo.gov/node/3379, a good resource for basic information on the game, as well as regulations for conservation areas. Then I visited www.geocaching.com, which allows you to search for caches in your area. I discovered that there were dozens of treasures to be found in my community—and here I’d planned to drive a couple of hours for our adventure!
Armed with two sets of coordinates and a borrowed GPS, my family set out on our treasure hunt. Our first stop was Rockwoods Range, between Pacific and Eureka in western St. Louis County, a five-minute drive from our house. I pass both the range and the nearby Rockwoods Reservation, just north of the range, at least once a week, but I had yet to stop and check them out.
We parked our car at the range and piled out. Excited, a little nervous, and not quite sure what to expect, we entered our coordinates into our trusty GPS and were off on our adventure.
We walked down a pleasant trail, wondering why we had never visited the Rockwoods areas before. They were enchanting and so close to home. Then we reached a point in the trail where the GPS unit signaled for us to go off the trail. I paused, looking into the woods. I am constantly reminding my boys to stay on the path. I knew that I was allowed both on-trail and off-trail access to the area, but I’d spent so much time at parks that I had to give myself permission to break the “rules” in my own head. As silly as it seemed, it was exciting to treat this area as the wild space it was.
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The event featured several different activities, ranging from building a bird house to planting trees. It was held at the M.W. Boudreaux Memorial Visitors Center and the Frank Russell Reaction Area.
Earth Day has been celebrated at Mark Twain Lake for more than 20 years. The groups that work with the Park on the event include the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association, the Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program, and several others.
Toni Lake and her family enjoyed all of activities at the event, ranging from geocaching to building bird houses.
"They enjoyed it a lot because they got to play with gadgets like GPS and they enjoyed getting bird houses made because that was kind of hands-on and they got to participate in that," Lake said of her sons.
She found Earth Day to be the perfect opportunity to teach her sons to appreciate the outdoors.
"You have to teach them, they're not going to learn without a good example. It's a lot easier just to sit inside and watch TV and play video games," said Lake.
Ranger Ben Sapp that the goal of the event was to get people back in touch with nature.
"Unfortunately, we're losing touch with some of the basic things that a lot of us did when we were growing up. We're trying to find ways to infuse that," Sapp said.
Gene Havens, a geocacher who volunteered to run a presentation about his hobby at the event, said there was another lesson to be learned from the event.
"Everyone should be familiar with their surroundings and need to help preserve them, because our kids will need an earth and their kids will need an earth," Havens said.
For Lake and her family, enjoying nature and taking care of it go hand in hand.
"We're teaching them about having fun outside, which is a good reason to protect it."
More than 50 people attended the event, which began at 9 a.m. and lasted into the early afternoon.
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The Missouri Botanical Garden invites the St. Louis community to join its celebration of trees by exploring the great outdoors! Join the Great St. Louis Tree Hunt to find at least 15 of 30 marked TREEmendous Trees throughout the metro region (including Missouri and Illinois).
At each tree location, you’ll find a TREEmendous sign that identifies the tree. A select number of the trees highlighted are also part of the TREEmendous Geocaching Series, coordinated by the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association. Whether you’re an experienced geocacher or a first-time novice, this is a great way to explore your world. Look for the “GC” symbol in the list of trees in the Tree Hunt Guide.
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