A handheld GPS. Photo: Robert Shepherd
SEARCY, Ark. (KTHV) - As children, most of us loved to explore the world around us and look for treasure. More and more people are recapturing that adventurous spirit through geocaching.
It's an outdoor scavenger hunt in which people hide items in a "geocache" and post its coordinates online. Others then try to find the cache using a smartphone or GPS device. When players locate an item, they sign a log to show they've found the cache.
Brian Landers, an avid "cacher," says it's easy to get started.
"You just need a GPS device of some type," says Landers. "Most phones have them. People have used GPS units they have in their cars. You can use a handheld that is more specific for this purpose."
Beginners can sign up for free at geocaching.com, where there are tutorials and videos on how to get started.
If you hide it, they will come
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has been using geocaching as a way to attract visitors since 2005.
"If you want someone to visit a specific place, you put a geocache there," says Kim Williams, travel writer for Arkansas Tourism. "The more you have in an area, the more people you're likely to get."
Some of the biggest programs have included the Great River Road's 70-year anniversary, in which they planted items in an area spanning ten east Arkansas counties. There is also a special cache placed in each of Arkansas' 52 state parks as part of a series; hunters who locate all of them receive a code that reveals coordinates to a final secret cache.
"People were literally running all over the state trying to be the one to find that final cache," says Williams. "A lot of people are still doing it today. It's a great program, and a great way to see our Arkansas state parks."
It can also be a great way to snag some swag. Landers says many caches contain small toys, trinkets or even t-shirts that finders can help themselves to. However, it's considered common courtesy if you take a prize to leave something else in its place.
The hunt continues to grow
There are more than 1,987,000 active caches around the world, and more than five million people play the game.
Williams says hot-spots in Arkansas include Searcy, Little Rock, El Dorado and Smackover. She estimates there are around 12,500 active geocaches in the Natural State.
"Geocaching is an incredibly family-friendly sport," says Landers. "It's a great way to get your kids outside."
Williams attributes the popularity of geocaching to its appeal to the kid in all of us.
"I still think that it goes back to us being little kids going out and looking for treasure," she says. "And when you find it, you're so excited. You've accomplished something."
+ Photo Gallery: High-tech scavenger hunt