Dappled sunlight dances through the forest as the group of treasure seekers canvass the rugged terrain for any clue of something amiss. Some are mere children, while others are seasoned veterans of the hunt, tracking the “geotrail” of others who have gone before.
Boglarka “Strombus” Lazar, a master at the game, who boasts more than 520 finds in her native Hungary, quickly locates the target but steps aside to give the novices a chance.
With the spot pinpointed, others soon eye the small, camouflaged container peeking from the underbrush. When the box is finally opened for all to see, the treasure is revealed: plastic bracelets, keychains, McDonald’s toys and the like.
Are our treasure hunters disappointed? Of course not! It’s all part of the game of geocaching. After exchanging a few trinkets and signing the logbook, the group is off to track down the next cache.
Nearly 100 people showed up at the Cypress Dome Trails Jan. 8 for an “intro to geocaching” event sponsored by the CREW (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed) Land and Water Trust. CREW hosts 20 to 30 events a month on its public trail systems in Lee and Collier counties, including school trips, guided hikes and full moon hikes.
Established in 1989, the trust’s mission is to coordinate the land acquisition, land management and public use of the region’s 60,000-acre watershed, the largest intact watershed in southwest Florida. So far, about 45,000 of the 60,000 acres have been publicly acquired, with the majority owner being the South Florida Water Management District, said Brenda Brooks, CREW’s executive director.
“Anybody who pays taxes has helped purchase this, and when they come out here and see it, they are usually glad they did,” she said. “It’s just raw beauty.”
Geocaching enthusiasts experienced that beauty while on the hunt during the Jan. 8 event, organized with help from Kenny Jenkins, a Southwest Florida representative for the Florida Geocaching Association.
“We have a pretty tight knit group of people around here who do geocaching, and we casually call ourselves ‘The Unusual Suspects,’” Jenkins said. He rallied the volunteer crew to help newcomers learn the tools of the game. “We probably had 30 show up who had never turned on a GPS,” he added, noting the game’s increasing popularity.
Geocaching is the fusion of high-tech and hiking, with the thrill of treasure hunting thrown in. It seems to bring people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds together, Jenkins noted.
That was true of the crowd Saturday, which included children through senior citizens. A group of about 10 brave souls followed Ryan “Gomer” Gamache along the White Trail, known as the “long and wet” trail because one stretch is usually calf-deep in water.
Eleven-year-old Rachael Dean and her mother, Merry, were prepared for the marsh with matching red galoshes. Rachael had gotten a GPS unit for Christmas and had used it to track down a handful of caches near her home in Fort Myers. She was eager to locate more at the Cypress Dome Trails — as well as to slosh in the water and climb trees.
Meanwhile Dave Miller of Bonita Springs was attempting to familiarize himself with the GPS unit his son had given him for his birthday. “I’m not good at figuring it out just reading a book,” he said.
As the group hunted for caches, trail guide Gomer dispensed sage wisdom, such as the perils of keeping your eyes focused on the GPS and not where you’re stepping (a tip brought on as one newbie with GPS in hand sloshed right into a mud puddle).
As the group came within a few feet of the hidden cache, Gomer advised them to look away from the screen and start searching for anything which “doesn’t belong.” After hunting for several minutes, no one could locate the cache, dubbed the “Flying Squirrel,” until Gomer laughed as he told Merry Dean her hand was resting on something unusual. Fishing line had been secured to the tree trunk, and when released, it lowered a large pinecone from the overhead branches, with a micro cache glued to one end.
“This is the fun one of the day,” said Gamache, a super-geocacher who has logged 2,760 caches nationwide and even hidden a few of his own in various locations around Naples and Bonita Springs.
“It’s taken me out to places I never thought I’d go. I’ve been through 48 states now doing this,” he said. “It’s the greatest form of entertainment. It’s free. It’s outdoors. It’s exercise. And you meet a lot of people.”
The Cypress Dome Trails, off of East Corkscrew Road, house 25 caches and are open to the public every day. To find more local caches, visit geocaching.com.