A couple years ago, Kevin Torres stumbled upon a neglected green area near the water tower at the intersection of Watson Boulevard and Maple Street in Warner Robins.
A sign read, “Men’s Garden.”
“It was like a rose garden, but it was really run-down,” he said.
Torres put a small container in the garden and went on his way.
He later did research on the area and found out that a men’s group in the 1970s decided to beautify Warner Robins by planting a rose garden. As the members aged, the rose garden fell into disrepair.
It was the perfect place for Torres to hide his memento.
Torres, of Warner Robins, is a geocacher.
Geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt where players, called geocachers, are given the coordinates to geocaches: hidden containers with something inside. The “something” can be anything from a simple sheet of paper to sign to a collection of knickknacks to trade. Geocachers use hand-held GPS devices or cellphones with GPS capabilities to locate the containers.
An online community at www.geocaching.com is a place for geocachers to post the coordinates of what they’ve hidden and to find items hidden by other players.
Geocaching began in May 2000 when the U.S. government stopped scrambling GPS signals, said Eric Schudiske, public relations and special media manager for Seattle-based geocaching.com and Groundspeak Inc., the website’s parent company.
After that, GPS signals became 10 times more accurate. The next day, someone decided to test the accuracy of GPS signals.
“He placed something in the woods, put it online and challenged people to find it,” said Schudiske.
And they did. Two different people found the container within three days, and they shared their experiences on the Internet.
By September of the same year, geocaching.com was born. At the time, it had only 75 users. But today, Schudiske said there are about 2.1 million users in 180 different countries.
“Geocaching” is one word made up of two words: “geo” representing Earth and “cache” representing the containers people hide.
“Location, Earth and containers. That’s geocaching,” said Schudiske.
And it really is a worldwide activity. Torres first heard about geocaching from a group of people from the Netherlands at a business meeting on Georgia Tech’s campus. Torres and the Dutch looked up some geocaches on campus and began the treasure hunt.
“They took me out, and I got hooked,” said Torres.
When geocachers find a geocache, they log it on the website, which keeps track of all the geocaches a player has found. Torres has logged about 400 geocaches.
“It has become a thing for me to see how many (geocaches) I can log,” he said.
The website also fills in a map with all the states and countries where a geocacher has found geocaches.
“I wanna see how many states I can fill in on my map,” said Torres. He hasn’t limited himself to the Unites States, though. “Every time I travel I try and find a geocache in that country.”
Tami Daniels, another geocacher from Warner Robins, recently took a trip to north Georgia and South Carolina for the dual purposes of geocaching and visiting a friend.
“There were some special (geocaches) around northeast Georgia I really wanted to go to,” said Daniels. It is her goal to find a geocache in each of Georgia’s 159 counties.
During her trip, she found about 40 geocaches in 14 different counties and South Carolina. She even introduced her friend to geocaching.
Geocaching “has taken me to places I would never have known about,” said Daniels. “It has given me a better appreciation for my hometown and home state.”
Georgia alone has more than 16,756 geocaches, a number that grows every day.
“That’s over 17,000 adventures people can have,” said Schudiske.
But geocaching turned out to be more than an adventure or a way to explore new places for Torres and Daniels. It turned out to be a way to beautify Warner Robins.
Geocaching to help the community
After Torres hid his geocache in the garden, others found it. Two of those geocachers were Daniels and her son, Kevin, who was looking for an Eagle Scout project.
“He said, ‘This is it. This is what I’m doing for my Eagle Scout project,’ ” Daniels said.
Kevin, now 16, worked with Keep Warner Robins Beautiful in November 2011 to clean up the trash and tend to the plants in the garden.
He didn’t do it alone. A group of local geocachers were there to help. The Middle Georgia Geocachers group formed about five years ago.
“We started Middle Georgia Geocachers just to give ourselves a chance to get together and to increase the number and quality of geocaches in the area,” Daniels said.
The Middle Georgia Geocachers get together once a month to socialize and talk about geocaching. They also host geocaching events.
Because of Kevin’s Eagle Scout project, the Middle Georgia Geocachers formed a relationship with Keep Warner Robins Beautiful, located in the E.L. Greenway Welcome Center. Last year, the Middle Georgia Geocachers had an Easter event at the welcome center. They have also done trash pick ups through Keep Warner Robins Beautiful.
“We have a great relationship with Keep Warner Robins Beautiful,” said Daniels. “We want to be good stewards of where we play our game.”
The welcome center is in the historic train depot in Warner Robins. Geocaching events held there, and the hidden geocache at the welcome center, bring people to one of the few historic places in Warner Robins.
“We want Warner Robins to be a destination,” said Daniels.
Torres said geocaching helps people and communities. Events called “Cache In Trash Out” are a way for geocachers to clean up the area on their way to finding a geocache.
Daniels said geocaching is a “boost to local economies.” Geocachers will go to towns early in the morning and spend all day searching for geocaches and exploring the town. Geocachers spend their time and money in places they otherwise would never have visited.
On Saturday, the Middle Georgia Geocachers and others from all over the state gathered at High Falls State Park in Jackson to socialize, search for geocaches and hide new ones. They spent the weekend camping and exploring the park with their friends and families.
Lisa Liu, marketing coordinator for Georgia State Parks, said geocachers and geocaching has brought more people to parks and historic sites. Using the geocaching website, the state parks are able to track how many people come to the parks for geocaching. Liu said they average about 20-25 visits a day.
“We have over 60 caches in state parks and historic sites,” she said. The relationship between geocachers and the state parks is built on the enthusiasm of geocachers and their love of state parks.
Rather than just finding a geocache, they love the journey, Liu said. Their journeys take them to new state parks and to less-explored sections of those parks.
Volunteers from the Georgia Geocachers Association help place and maintain geocaches in the parks. Liu said the geocachers have supported the parks more than anyone initially thought they would.
State parks even have two of their own activities for geocachers: the Parks GeoTour and the Geocaching History Trail. Geocachers can travel to multiple parks and historic sites to find the geocaches placed there. The competition to find all of the hidden treasures is an incentive for geocachers to visit the parks and historic sites. More information about these activities can be found at www.gastateparks.org/geocaching.
To get involved with geocaching, visit www.geocaching.com. To find out more about the Middle Georgia Geocachers, visit their Facebook page: Middle Georgia Geocaching.
To contact writer Emily Farlow, call 744-4225.