Saturday, January 5, 2002
Steamboat Springs Last week, I wrote an article about the new sport of geocaching. The idea is to place a cache out in the woods somewhere usually in a Tupperware container with a logbook and some trinkets. The cache's longitude and latitude coordinates are logged onto the Internet and people use a Global Position System device to go out and find it.
It's kind of like a big treasure hunt.
There are 147 caches in Colorado and, in less than two years, 9,503 caches have been hidden in 90 countries.
That's staggering, especially considering that nearly every state has multiple sites.
But what is even more staggering is that the U.S. Forest Service the federal agency that manages national forests where many caches are hidden isn't quite sure what to make of geocaching.
After last week's story was printed, Forest Service Wilderness Manager Jon Anarella, down in Yampa, called to chat.
Technically, he said, the Forest Service could view a cache for geocaching as left property similar to someone leaving a hunting cap behind. That means it needs to be removed. Therefore, the cache in Buffalo Pass that I wrote about last week probably shouldn't be there.
This may seem like a narrow way to approach this issue, but you must take into account how officials at the Forest Service are mandated to manage the land. There is nothing in the forest plan, which is the Bible, dictionary and guidebook of land management for the Forest Service, dealing with geocaching. So, looking at it closely, the best definition for a Tupperware container hidden in the forest for more than a few weeks could be "left property."
There also is another issue with geocaching that Anarella pointed out.
If someone puts a cache in a place considerably far off a trail, wilderness managers don't exactly see a bunch of people blazing trails through the forest as the best thing for the ecosystem, especially in one isolated area. That means there is a certain responsibility for people not to put caches too far off trails.
But Anarella said the Forest Service isn't exactly frowning at geocaching. Instead, officials are scratching their heads. On one hand, there are the issues aforementioned. On the other hand, it's a pretty cool way to get people out into forests and reflects the multiple-use mantra for public lands that the Forest Service follows. Plus, some geocaching activities are environmentally proactive, such as picking up trash around cache sites.
Wilderness managers from across the state are meeting in Denver this week to discuss issues regarding forest management and geocaching is one of the issues up for debate. Anarella said an official view on the sport probably would follow.
Personally, I'd like to see a collective nod for geocaching. It's a good way to get families or people not really into hiking out to see what natural beauty, isolation and open space can do to you. I'd force-feed it to people if I could.
Before anyone starts putting caches in the forest, we should wait to see what the experts say.